Breeze is building and Ericsson fight to maintain their lead as the VOR fleet move up the Irish coast 6/6/06

The light conditions are proving relentless for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as they potter up the west coast of Ireland. But the sailors, who may lose some weight from food rationing by the time they arrive in Rotterdam, are enjoying the scenery of the stunning coastline.

Simon Fisher from ABN AMRO TWO wrote yesterday: “Our day started sailing in and out of the mist rolling down off the hills and, as the sun rose and the mist burnt off, it gave way to spectacular views of rolling green hills and a weather-beaten rocky coastline. With castles and towers stationed on each headland, it gives you the feeling of sailing through a scene out of Lord of the Rings.”

The fleet are now experiencing slightly more favourable weather conditions. Early this morning the winds picked up to a gentle 15 knots from the south, allowing them to maintain boat speeds in the mid teens.

Ericsson (Neal McDonald) and Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) have been neck and neck throughout the night but it is Ericsson who still holds the lead, now 10 miles north of the northern tip of Ireland, with Brasil 1 trailing only two miles behind.

Brunel (Matt Humphries) has taken a flyer 23 miles to the west in search of wind. They have fallen back to sixth after losing nine miles to the fleet over night.

The rest of the fleet is tightly bunched, just two miles separating them west to east, and the leader, Ericsson, has 96 miles to go to Barra Head, the southernmost tip of the Outer Hebrides.

Mike Sanderson and his crew on ABN AMRO ONE have moved up the rankings into third position, also only two miles back from Ericsson – who are feeling the heat.

Paul Cayard will hold The Black Pearl close to Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) to protect his position of second place overall. If Pirates of the Caribbean and Brasil 1 were to finish this leg in their current positions, Cayard would lead Grael by just 5.5 points leaving the fight for overall second place very much open with an in-port race and another leg to go before the finish of the event in Gothenburg, Sweden later this month.

With the fresher conditions, ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson) has come steaming up through the fleet, achieving the highest 24-hour run – 239 miles.

Paul Cayard wrote: “The breeze filled in and ABN AMRO ONE was just plain faster than us. This again raised the anxiety level in me as we were finally on a point of sail that we should make some gains and were not. This morning, ABN AMRO ONE has continued to sail away from us in 15 knots of wind, flat running, and now has sailed right up along side Brasil 1. This eases my anxiety as it is just that ABN AMRO ONE is a rocket, not that we are going that badly.”

At the head of the fleet, Ericsson is enjoying 17 knots of breeze, with the rest of the fleet in slightly lighter conditions, but the short term forecast is for the wind to start dropping this afternoon and the fleet will head into another area of no wind again tonight and tomorrow. As the fleet approaches Fair Isle, the rounding mark at the top of Scotland, a broken down cold front will likely give them approximately 15 knots of breeze.

With 857 miles to go to the finish, only eight miles separate the fleet from first to fifth place, with Brunel 18 miles from the leader, in sixth place.