24-hour run record in danger as storm hits Volvo

Driver/Trimmer Phil Harmer and Bowman Andrew McLean onboard Green Dragon - image Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/

'The depression in the South Atlantic has aligned itself perfectly to fire the fleet to Cape Town at record place,' promises Green Dragon’s skipper, Ian Walker/GBR. Volvo teams have positioned themselves for a fast run to Cape Town as the storm deepens to the south of them. The leading two boats, Ericsson 4 and PUMA are back in sight of each other, racing just 100 metres apart.

But the although the 24-hour record of 562.96 nautical miles currently held by ABN AMRO TWO could be broken, it is a question of which teams can push the hardest, but still keep their boat in one piece. Damage now will be extremely costly as the fleet prepares for big waves and big action.

Weather forecaster, Matt Sanders, explains that the countdown to the ‘launch’ began over the weekend as the teams readied their boats and steered into the best position to rocket across the South Atlantic. Navigators hoped this south west-south-west course positioned their boats on the launch pad with the best fuel to reach Cape Town. The fuel is, of course, strong, steady winds generated by the pressure gradient between lows moving along the South Atlantic storm track, and the semi-permanent South Atlantic High.

Green Dragon, in third place, is the most southerly yacht in the fleet and skipper Ian Walker says that all the effort his team put into getting south is now wasted. 'We will have lost miles on the fleet as we will no longer be gybing south,' he says. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) and PUMA (Ken Read/USA), leading the field, are 26nm to windward of the Dragons.

Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) in fourth, is following the same east-south-easterly course as PUMA and Ericsson 4, who has fifth-placed Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 17nm to windward, and is being followed by Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) who is behind and to leeward. Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) in seventh position, is the most northerly yacht and Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) is following in the wake of Ericsson 3.

Walker reported this morning that the Dragons had averaged 25 knots for the past hour. This would equate to a 600-nm day. 'Clearly, doing this for 24-hours is another thing altogether and we are on the edge,' he said.

The pressure is mounting for the leading two boats, Ericsson 4 and PUMA. They are back in sight of each other, racing just 100 metres apart after a 15-hour spell when Ericsson 4 managed to break free from PUMA’s stranglehold.

'We knew they would be back,' reported PUMA skipper Ken Read in a radio interview this morning. 'The first boat to break loose will win. We will keep the pressure on. We are literally right next door to Ericsson 4,' Read said.

Onboard Delta Lloyd navigator Matthew Gregory/USA describes the storm that is brewing as ‘the gateway to hell’. The crew reported damage to the starboard side of their rig over a week ago and since making the repair, the Dutch/Irish team has sailed only on port gybe. A gybe to starboard is imminent, possibly coinciding with the cold front passing over the team as the storm deepens to the south of them.

The best 24-hour run is chalked down to Team Russia who has registered 450 nm, but the highest average speed still lies with Green Dragon, whose skipper says: 'Watch this space over the next three days. I guarantee records or drama – or possibly both.'

Volvo Ocean Race - Leg One Tuesday, Day 18: 13:00 GMT

1 Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 2292
2 PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +2
3 Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +41
4 Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +44
5 Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +47
6 Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +58
7 Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) +117
8 Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +186