BUSINESS BEFORE PLEASURE
It’s business as usual now that Telefonica Blue has rounded Cape Horn and, like the rest of the fleet, made good its escape from the hard labour of the Southern Ocean. The pleasures of Rio await.
Bouwe Bekking and his men passed the scoring waypoint at the Atlantic-Pacific intersection at 13:39 GMT. Apart from the job satisfaction, they added another two points to their pay packet to move to within half a point of PUMA in the overall standings.
Their rounding came almost two full days after Ericsson 3 (12:20, 19-03-09), though they are mere statistics. What matters more is that a battle-weary crew on a jury-rigged boat can seriously contemplate Copacabana at last.
Telefonica’s tale of woe on this 12,300-mile marathon is well-documented. The self-inflicted wound of a three-point penalty due to a rudder change, leaving Qingdao 19 hours behind the scheduled starters after hitting a rock, mainsail delamination and a broken forestay were all low blows.
In keeping with the catalogue of incidents and accidents, Bekking reported that they had collided with a brick wall at the Horn. In an audio interview with yours truly (also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs), he said: “We are still right next to it (the Horn), we don’t have any breeze. We are becalmed basically. We have four knots of breeze and big waves so we are only moving about two to three knots. Looks like we’ll be hanging here for a few hours' more.”
The drop in wind allowed the pressure valve to be released on board. It was also the prelude to a party. “We had some grappa and some big cigars out. It was a big highlight particularly given how this leg has been going for us. It took a bit of pressure off.”
There was also a relaxation of the No Speedo Rule for some. "It is forbidden to walk around (on Telefonica Blue) with your Speedos but we have some guys on here from the Black boat so I said the only time you can walk around in your Speedos is when we go round the Horn so David (Vera) and Mike (Pammenter) were happy.”
Bekking added that when the going got tough, they still managed to get going. “After the second ice gate, we had one big squall of about 40 knots but we’ve kept up the fight.” This video of Telefonica Blue at full tilt underlines the point.
With the Atlantic, and the warmer climes, comes compression. Otherwise known as the yo-yo effect if you are PUMA's Ken Read or a parking lot if you happen to be Ericsson 3 navigator Aksel Magdahl.
"Just after we tried to sail through the convergenze zone off the South-east Argentine coast, we parked for a few hours before we got going again,” Magdahl said.
"There are very nervous times on deck for (skipper) Magnus Olsson who is not exactly of the cool, calm and quiet type. But as the guys behind parked as well it was actually quite welcome, we could sleep without bouncing around for the first time in a while.
"It is nice to go into the last week of racing with an advantage of 50 miles, but it is not a very comfortable lead because we are sailing through this area of high pressure bubbles. My biggest concern is the high we will have to negotiate in two to three days’ time, it can easily become a parking spot.”
By the 16:00 GMT Position Report, wind speeds were in the low teens. Ericson 3 had maintained its 50-mile lead over Ericsson 4 – a gain of five miles over the past 24 hours. PUMA was third at +140.
For Green Dragon (+244), it’s a case of treading warily, according to skipper Ian Walker, from here to Rio. But at least the topography is easy on the eye.
“We are threading our way through some outlying islands and reefs just off the northern edge of the Falkland Islands,” he said. “It’s an incredible sight. These are quite steep islands with clouds popping off the top of all of them."
As for overtaking manoeuvres, Walker says there will be “plenty of opportunities” between now and the finish and the Irish-Chinese entry has designs on a podium position.
"We’ve got two big high pressure areas to negotiate. We will need a helping hand from the weather. We are about seven hours behind PUMA at this stage so we need the race to slow down for us at some stage I’d say.
“Having said that, the miles come and go pretty quickly. We haven’t given up. Even in the last 24 hours into Rio you can get stuck for more than seven hours. Our intention is to hound down PUMA as best we can.”
Like his counterparts, Walker admitted that the StealthPlay cards might be wielded before the finish.
"It’s something we should not disregard,” he said. "I thought about playing it very early in this leg when we nearly made the move Ericsson 3 did by going over the top of that low pressure coming out of Fiji. But I thought if I did that everyone will know what we’re doing.
"It’s certainly something we’ve got up our sleeve. We can have a discussion about today. We’ve got to come up with a plan first.”
Where Walker sees beauty in the aforementioned islands, Ken Read sees a roadblock. “Flat water and a bit less sting to the breeze greeted the fine yachting today as we travel north towards Brazil,” he wrote. “Still one dilemma though. What is it with these damn islands always being in the way! Fiji, on the other side, which we had to cut through, and now the Falklands. There is a big ocean out here and we are magnets to land.”
While the rest of the crew burn the midnight oil on Ericsson 4, the boat’s Mr Fixit Horacio Carabelli, has been stockpiling reserves on board.
The boat developed an oil leak in the hydraulic ram mechanism of the canting keel. The seepage was first detected two days’ ago and with Carabelli’s slick work, it has been contained.
“We discovered that one of the valves on the manifold has a leak and we ended up with the bilge and the engine room flooded with oil,” he said.
“Fortunately we are sailing most of the time on port tack which is the low pressure side. Two days' ago we sailed a lot on starboard, the pressure side, and the leakage became quite big. We lost about six litres of oil.
"We don’t really want to service it until we have the tools to do it. Servicing may even make it worse. Unless we lose performance, we will continue to collect the oil and put it back into the main system. Without this, we can’t survive,” he adds holding the oil he has gathered up.
Finally, the equine mascot perched on Telefonica Blue’s Cape Horn sign in the main picture probably hasn’t escaped your notice.
It goes by the name of Doldrum and was a birthday present for trimmer Xabier Fernandez from his son. No doubt Doldrum (+653 DTL), is counting down the miles – 1,580 for the leaders – to Rio.