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Volume 16, Issue 46 - November 13 - November 19, 2008
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Round the World by Sail

The 2008-’09 Volvo Ocean Race Begins

by Steve Carr

The pre-race favorite Ericsson 4 under sail, above. Crew aboard Telefonica Blue, below, whose skipper captained the ill-fated Movistar, which sank in the North Atlantic in the last race.

The Volvo Ocean Race is back on the water. The 70-meter rocket-boats left Alicante, Spain last month and finished in Cape Town, South Africa, a little over three weeks later.

The 2008-’09 Volvo Ocean Race will cover 37,000 miles in nine months, with stops in 11 ports. Several familiar stops, including Annapolis and Australia, are out.

The only part of the race that looks familiar is the first leg. Assuming the start and stop in Europe — which is the way it’s always been done — options for circumnavigating the globe are fairly limited.

You have to sail in a semi-circle 6,500 miles south along the coast of southern Europe, between Africa and South America and round the Cape of Good Hope. Next, the racers have always blasted across the Southern Ocean to the land of the Kangaroo. This time, however, they head north across the Indian Ocean to Cochin, India (4,450 miles); then on to —

• Singapore (1,950 miles);
• Qingdao, China (2,500 miles);
• Rio de Janeiro (12,300 miles);
• Boston (4,900 miles);
• Galway, Ireland (2,550 miles);
• Marstrand, Sweden (950 miles);
• Stockholm, Sweden (525 miles);
• finishing in St. Petersburg, Russia (400 miles).

Why has the Baltimore/Annapolis stop been abandoned?

The last Chesapeake entry was in 1997-’98, when George Collins put together Chessie Racing. The most recent Volvo Race featured American entry Pirates of the Caribbean, the Disney boat; we were lucky they didn’t stop in Florida instead of here. There’s plenty of corporate money around this area and lots of rich sailors. If Chesapeake Country had fielded a team, the fleet would be coming back to Annapolis. We didn’t. And they aren’t.

The ’08 Racers

The crews this year are a mix of old and new. The stops reflect the sponsors’ corporate homes.

The Swedish Telecommunications giant Ericsson is back this year with two entries: Ericsson 3, skippered by Anders Lewander with a crew of Nordic young bucks; and Ericsson 4, the pre-race favorite, led by Brazilian sailing legend Torben Grail and a crew of veteran Volvo sailors.

The American entry is the red boat, il mostro — The Monster — otherwise known as Team Puma, out of Boston. They have veteran Ken Read at the helm and an experienced crew that knows what it takes to win.

The Spanish telephone company Telefonica has two boats in its corporate stable: Telefonica Blue, with Bouwe Bekking calling the shots after skippering the ill-fated Spanish entry Movistar, which sank in the North Atlantic on the way to Portsmouth, England, in 2006; and Telefonica Black, a mostly inexperienced Spanish crew with 2008 Tornado gold medalist Fernando Echavarri at the wheel.

The Chinese, still glowing after their Olympic showing, have launched a Chino-Celtic team called Green Dragon, which came together at the last minute. They have British Olympian Ian Walker spearheading; their stops in Asia and Ireland will no doubt rock.

Delta Lloyd is another 11th-hour entry, skippered by Irishman Ger O’Rourke, sailing a significantly modified ABN AMRO ONE, which won the last Volvo for the Dutch.

Rounding out the eight-boat fleet is the radically designed Kosatka – Killer Whale — otherwise known as Team Russia, and led by Star-class sailor Andreas Hanakamp, with team owner Oleg Zherebtsov on the foredeck.

The Chino-Celtic team called Green Dragon.

Leg 1: Three Races in One

Race rules remain pretty much the same, with weighted points awarded for each leg, scoring gates along the way and in-port races.

The Telefonica boats from Spain finished first and second in the race at Alicante, much to the delight of the locals. The Volvo 40s, those super-charged catamarans that race like kamikazes, appeared again this year for in-port races.

Leg 1 is actually several races. The first: getting out of the Mediterranean. At one point, the two leaders ran out of wind during an incoming tide; they were literally drifting backwards, unable even to throw out an anchor in the 400-meter-deep sea.

The second: Following the trade winds south, they played hide and seek in the Cape Verde and Canary islands in warm weather and calm seas before lining up to do battle with the dreaded doldrums, a wall of dead air stretching across the equator. This year, the boats that went far west toward South America were the first to escape. After the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha, a volcanic outcrop off the coast of Brazil, the real race began. By then, they had already suffered broken rudders, collisions with whales and shredded sails. Onboard Ericsson 4, a helmsman had to be dropped off with a fishing vessel when his knee became badly infected.

The third race of Leg 1 was time to play storm chaser. Weather models showed a nasty low-pressure system blowing off South America and heading straight for Cape Town. The boat that got there first and positioned itself in the heart of the storm would get a rocket ride to remember. Ericsson 4 guessed right; in the process, she broke the world record by going over 600 miles in a 24-hour period. That’s a consistent 25mph.

Ericsson 4 lived up to expectations, arriving in Cape Town in first place earning 14 points. Puma follows with 13. Third is Green Dragon with 11.

Unimaginable thrills and chills await, with the second leg beginning November 15. Follow the action 4,450 miles across the Indian Ocean to Cochin, India, at


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