At 0700 GMT yesterday morning, Green Dragon went into Stealth Mode with approximately 300 miles to go. This allowed them to go off the radar for 12 hours, keeping secret valuable information about their position, wind strength and speed as they defended fourth place from Telefonica Blue. This morning they appeared once more on the radar 64 miles from the finish. Elsewhere Telefonica Blue were chasing hard and had closed the gap to just 59 miles. But conditions held to the finish allowing Green Dragon to keep the Spanish crew at bay and secure valuable points on the scoreboard.
It has been an epic leg for Ian Walker and his crew, they have sailed 12,300 miles making it the longest ever leg in the 36 year history of the race, and one which the skipper will remember for many years to come. “Getting around Cape Horn is something that I have always wanted to do. It was pretty windy when we went around there. It was a big thing in my mind and from about four days out I was really quite cautious in how we approached the whole thing. I gave the weather report a lot of respect. Going around Cape Horn and finding ourselves 70 miles behind Puma, given what we are working with, was a really good result. We thought if they park up we’ve got a chance at this. From then on we didn’t lay the Falklands, we had to go west with the north easterly wind, and then struggled in the high pressure up through the South Atlantic. Yesterday we had 12 hours with no more than 4 knots of wind! We just had to stick at it and I am pleased we are here, overall I’m pleased we’ve got the Southern Ocean out of the way, everyone is safe, everyone is still friends! It feels quite an achievement. I think the highlight in a funny kind of way was the icebergs when we first spotted the iceberg someone said ‘oh have you checked the radar there is an object in the water!’. At the time it was scary but then looking back it kind of made the trip in a way”.
The crew were at sea for a total of 43 days, in a leg which took in two scoring gates, one of the most famous landmarks in sailing history, an equator crossing, the tradewinds, the doldrums, as well as sailing through two oceans (the Pacific & Southern Ocean). The crew onboard Green Dragon faced the heat, the cold, as well as upwind and downwind sailing conditions as they battled to Rio. It was a leg where on occasion the rule book was thrown out of the window as the fleet took some radical navigation decisions. Ericsson 3 took a gamble staying north as they approached the Southern Ocean, which paid dividends and secured them their first win of the race. Green Dragon’s watch leader Damian Foxall commented on arrival, “It was the longest Volvo leg ever, I think we did a good job to keep getting back in touch and at times sail our own race. We have a fantastic team and I think the reason we are where we are right now is because of that”.
For Green Dragon’s navigator Wouter Verback the decision to stay east after passing Japan and after the second ice gate was crucial in keeping the Dragon in touch. Each time the decision was successful and shortly after Cape Horn they were within 70 miles of Puma. At times the weather models were a “minefield” as the fleet struggled to head north up the South American coast, the crews all faced the wrath of the fickle conditions in this area and were becalmed for days on end. Just before crossing the line he commented: “Nowhere do you find the emotional contrasts following each other so quickly and so extreme. Blasting down big waves through pitch black stormy nights hoping the boat keeps in one piece and eating your hat out of frustration in light and fickle winds with the competition spearing away. It is all part of the game that we love so much and into which we pour our whole lives. It is tough to run out of food and be low on energy and trying to motivate yourself to keep pushing, but we did, the whole way, every single mile. Something to be proud of for sure! Highlights of the leg include the rounding of Cape Horn and the big gains on the fleet after good strategic choices before Fiji and Cape Horn. Through hard work and determination we managed to hang in there and beat some of them. A great achievement for this team with half the budget and time of the big teams”.
The final days on board the Dragon were hard as they dealt with a major food and fuel shortage. Phil Harmer described the leg and how they dealt with the food rationing onboard: “I described the leg last night as watching all three Lord of the Rings movies at once! It was frustrating but you couldn’t stop doing it, it was hard but it was good fun!"
Talking about the food shortage onboard he said, “it was kind of like sitting in the dentist chair, it was like pulling teeth! It was hard for me, I was in charge of the food and dishing it out so I was the most hated man for about four days! We are looking skinny, so all our wives and girlfriends will be happy”. Only the essential systems were running over the final day and with only 40 days of food onboard for a 43 day leg it was a very hungry and relived crew who tied up to the dock in Marina de Gloria this afternoon.
Overall it has been a good leg for Green Dragon. With no major gear failure or problems with the boat or sails, it provides a week for the shore crew to prepare the boat for the In Port race next Saturday, 4 April. “We stuck to our task and repeatedly pulled back the miles and only in the last week when we became ensnared by a huge high pressure area with no wind did we lose touch,” commented Ian Walker on the dock. “Fourth place is a good result for us, for all our efforts which together with our scoring gate points will see us build a big gap on those behind overall and stay within contention to Ericsson 3. Ask anybody who knows me and they will tell you how competitive I am and that I like to win at whatever I do. I rarely get satisfaction from taking part but when I look back on leg 5 of this race it will be with a lot of pride and satisfaction,” said Ian Walker.
Leg Five Finishing Order Rio de Janeiro
1. Ericsson 3: 8 points
2. Ericsson 4: 7 points
3. PUMA: 6 points
4. Green Dragon: 5 points
Overall Leaderboard (Provisional)
1. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) 63.5 points (FINISHED)
2. PUMA (Ken Read/USA) 53 points (FINISHED)
3. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 46.5 points (RACING)
4. Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE) 43.5 (FINISHED)
5. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) 39.5 (FINISHED)
More photos on the following pages...