Leaders Round the Rocks

At 1600 GMT Volvo Ocean Race organizers reported that the first three teams had rounded Ilha de Fernando Noronha, off the Brazilian coast, the first waypoint on the 7,350-mile. John Kostecki’s illbruck Challenge, the first to exit the doldrums on Monday, passed the island at 1129 GMT, followed by Mark Rudiger and Roy Heiner’s Assa Abloy nearly two hours later. Ross Field’s Team News Corp, third, logged their rounding at 1554 GMT.

Kevin Shoebridge’s Team Tyco was expected to round the island fourth, either ahead or nearly alongside Grant Dalton’s Amer Sports One. At press time, the two were separated by only 10 miles. Dalton, positioned to the east of Tyco, wrote in an e-mail to race headquarters that his team was gaining on the Bermuda entry as it was being slowed by its approach from the west. "The first rounding mark is well in sight now and we have just had a good gain on Tyco," Dalton said early today. "It could be a couple of more miles in it for us before we get to the island as our angle is a little better than theirs." Perhaps writing with a tone of optimism, Dalton and crew are still unable to sail the boat to its potential. "Another day like yesterday and we continue to lose ground," he said on Wednesday, 18 days into the race. "For the past two days, the weather has been all Code Zero, so we are down on about 85 square meters of sail area. We have put the Code Zero up on a halyard, the luff is loose because we cannot get te

Despite the handicap Amer One has been able to maintain pace with News Corp and Tyco, but all the while, illbruck and Assa Abloy are slowly slipping away towards the next waypoint, Isla da Trinidade. It’s a straightforward sprint before the next tactical decision as they plan their approach to Cape Town. "Right now we are working on the weather for the second half of this leg," said Ross Field, while seated alongside his onboard meteorologist Nick White. "We are trying to position ourselves correctly for the race across the South Atlantic. The route could take us down to 41 degrees south, but we will make our final decision within the next few days."

While the frontrunners continue to enjoy fresh winds and 10- to 12-knot progress towards their next waypoint, the backmarkers by nearly 350 miles, Gurra Krantz’s Team SEB, Lisa Charles’ Amer Sports Too, and Knut Frostad’s Djuice Dragons have finally cleared the doldrums. At this point, barring a major roadblock for the leaders, the best they can hope for now, is to earn as few points as possible. No one can afford to be last into Cape Town, so each of the threesome is now focusing on the race within the race.

It’s quite some relief to be sailing in 15 knots of wind," said Stig Westergaard from onboard the eighth-ranked Djuice Dragons. "Modest in normal standards, but compared to the winds of the last 10 days, a bloody hurricane. Steaming along under a reacher, trying to make sure that SEB to windward cannot make use of their 60 miles separation to the east. We are sailing a fast angle and feel confident that they can’t match us. But we shall see, they probably will have a lift some hours before us."

Westergaard added that members of the team’s shore manager B.J. Grimholt was awaiting them at Fernando de Noronha with a spare headboard for their mainsail, which exploded in the opening days of the leg. They’ll certainly need it once they turn corner towards the south.