Volume 14, Issue 19 ~ May 11 - May 17, 2006

Riding Out with the Volvo Racers

Farewell for another four years

by Kat Bennett

Enthusiastic Annapolitans thrilled as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet headed off on Leg 6 to New York City. More than 3,500 watercraft lined the harbor and racing channel while thousands more cheered from Annapolis Harbor and the Bay Bridge in the greatest turnout for the race to date.

Maryland’s enthusiasm was not lost on the racers. Bouwe Bekking wrote: “a great farewell … even more (than) the amount of spectator boats when the fleet was leaving Auckland in the old days.”

Mark Rudiger, Ericsson’s navigator noted “The atmosphere was electric this morning as we left the dock — the waterfront buzzing with life and so many spectator boats here to wave us off. Thank you to all of you for your support.”

The starting gun fired and racers split toward the right and left sides of the course. Movistar, Brasil 1 and Pirates of the Caribbean quickly headed across the eastern side of the course and toward surprised fans, who quickly cleared a path for the racers. Ericsson broke a grinder belt on the first tack and stayed close to the western side of the course, where they caught a nice breeze as the crew made a quick repair. Brunel followed Ericsson’s path, with the two ABN AMRO boats struggling to follow along the right side of the course.

As the lead boats cut through the crowds, hundreds of spectator boats followed on all sides. It was an armada of racing fever. Suddenly, in another surprise, Movistar and Brasil 1 tacked alongside the John W. Brown Liberty Ship. Large enough to affect the air, the Liberty Ship invited the racing captains to swoop close to pick up a slight lift toward the Bay Bridge rounding mark. Watchers on the decks ran fore and aft, one side to the other as ABN AMRO ONE slipped past the other side of the huge metal vessel.

Out in the ocean, conditions roughened. “Driving the boat was just a nightmare,” wrote Sanderson of ABN AMRO ONE. “There was icy sleet hitting the bare skin of your face like small sharp rocks, the boat was getting thrown around like clothes in a washing machine as the waves got bigger and bigger.”

Torbin Grael of Brasil 1 wrote: “It was by far the hardest leg of the race in terms of the physical effort required and the lack of sleep. Every maneuver required everyone up on deck in their full foul-weather gear.”

After Annapolis’ warm welcome, the two days to New York were hard. Some of the boats may take the optional two-hour penalty to allow their shore crews to repair damage and prepare the boats for the dash across the Atlantic.

Movistar lost the drive for its big winches and had to transfer the spinnaker to the mainsheet after every gibe. Pirates lost their wind instruments. Others had worse trouble.

“The furler for the jib to the deck broke,” Simon Fisher of ABN AMRO TWO reported.

Brunel “broke about five jib sheets,” according to Grant Wharington, “ripped the radar bracket and had trouble with our instruments. But we think we can avoid the penalty and fix it all ourselves.”

Brasil 1 was seriously slowed by crab pots around the keel and had to head up as they sent Andre Fonseca diving in to remove them.

With the usual extraordinary luck and skill, ABN AMRO ONE sailed first into New York harbor Tuesday May 9 at 4:07am for a new total of 70.5 points. Their crew was battered and weary but all gear and sails still in good shape.

Second into New York, Pirates took a quick cruise past the Statue of Liberty before sailing into port. They’ve now moved into a solid second-place, finishing at 6:47am and bringing their score to 47.5, just a half a point ahead of Movistar, the fifth finisher in New York.

It was a scramble to the last for third and fourth positions. Brasil 1 took third place just nine minutes behind Pirates, with Ericsson a scant three minutes behind. Sixty seconds later came Movistar. Brunel came in sixth and ABN AMRO TWO, hampered by gear damage, seventh.

All crews will rest before heading out May 11 for leg 7, 3,200 nautical miles to Portsmouth, England. As they hunt for the fast-moving airs in the jet stream, they battle thick fog and ice. At the British Isles, the final portion of Leg 7 will take the boats through a maze of channels, rocks, tides, boats and whirlpools.

Keep track on the Volvo Ocean Race Website — www.volvoocean race.org — or at any one of the dozens of Bay area pubs and restaurants following the race.

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