Sun, Feb 15, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Volvo Ocean Race limps into longest leg in event history

AP , QINGDAO, CHINA

Ericsson 4 of Sweden, right, Green Dragon of Ireland, left, and other sailing boats start Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race in Qingdao, China, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The Volvo Ocean Race set out yesterday across the Pacific Ocean on the longest leg in the history of the event with Ericsson 4 leading the standings.

The fifth of 10 legs will take the crews from the Yellow Sea port of Qingdao across the Pacific and via Cape Horn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The distance is 22,800km, the longest in the history of the round-the-world race.

Crews are expected to arrive in South America about March 20.

The race began from Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 11 and is scheduled to end on June 27 in St Petersburg, Russia.

Only three boats managed to start yesterday. Telefonica Blue — second in the standings and the winner of the last two legs — picked up unspecified damage in shallow water 20 minutes before the start and needed repairs before setting out.

Despite the problems, Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael, a Brazilian who has won five Olympic sailing medals, expected Telefonica Blue to keep pressing for the lead.

“They [Telefonica Blue] are a very competitive team and they will improve their performances,” Grael said. “They have shown in the last legs they are very strong and we have to work very hard to beat them. At this stage of the race if you sail too conservatively, you probably will not win. You have to balance risk with return. There are still a lot of points still at stake.”

After four legs, Sweden’s Ericsson 4 leads with 49 points, followed by Spain’s Telefonica Blue (42) and Puma Ocean Racing of the US (41).

The fourth leg from Singapore to Qingdao took its toll on several boats that encountered coral reefs and then severe storms. Two boats had to suspend racing because of damage.

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