It has been a case of two steps forward and one step back for the Green Dragon fleet after day four on leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Ian Walker and his crew made strong progress overnight as they moved from seventh to third on the leader board by the 07.00 GMT positions.
Ericsson 4 dropped four places to fifth and Telefonica Blue once again took the lead.
But any lead at this point is fragile, with the positions constantly changing as the skippers and navigators deal with some tough tactical decisions.
Green Dragon remains the most southerly boat, but it is not a position the Dragon wants to stay in as Skipper Ian Walker highlighted saying: ‘Now we are trying desperately to get back north a bit so we don’t get hung out to dry down south where lighter winds await’.
The big question facing the crews will be whether to go north for better wind or head south for less adverse current.
Volvo’s Race expert Mark Chisnell filled us in on the current dilemma facing the fleet: ‘Normally, when faced with a strong current flowing against you, the plan would be to head for the beach, sailing in the shallow water, where the current flow is weaker.
‘But because of the Sri Lanka waypoints, the pirate exclusion zone, keeping them off the south shore of the island, the fleet can’t get to the beach. So the solution may well be the opposite – to get south, further away from the island, where the current is not being compressed and strengthened by having to flow around the obstruction’.
Conditions onboard are tough, every tack requires the crew to move a couple of tonne of kit from one side of the boat to the other, not to mention the heat and humidity that the climate throws at them.
At the 10.00 GMT position report, Green Dragon had lost two places, and is now fifth 14 miles behind Bouwe Bekking and his crew, who have found more consistent conditions to the north of the Dragon. But the racing remains tight as the drag race east towards the scoring gate continues.
Skipper Ian Walker gives an update from on board the Green Dragon: ‘If there was a prize for tenacity then I think my crew deserve it. We don’t appear to be as competitive as Ericsson, Telefonica or Puma boats in the very light airs and we need to work extra hard during these time to stop them putting miles on us whenever we are near them.
‘All we can do is continue to squeeze every ounce of speed we can out of the Dragon and work hard on our steering, trimming and sail changes. 80% of this race has been a drag race where we have lost some distance but in the other 20% we have fortunately made good calls that seem to have kept us in the race.
‘The last 48 hours have been brutal with up to 3.5 knots of current against us on the Southern tip of Sri Lanka and light headwinds. Because of the piracy marks there was no way of getting to shallower water and we finally came to the conclusion we had to take the somewhat drastic action of heading south to escape the current’s clutches.
‘We had been sailing for hours making no more than two knots and often 0 VMG towards the finish so we had to do something. We didn’t really want to go south but had to bite the bullet. We also noticed that Telefonica Black had made some gains that way. So south we went and sure enough the current finally reduced and we started to pull bearing on the fleet.
‘Both Telefonica boats have also done this nicely and have got the jump on the other frontrunners. Now we are trying desperately to get back north a bit so we don’t get hung out to dry down south where lighter winds await. Still 3rd place at this stage is quite an achievement and keeps the spirits up.
‘There is not much to report on life onboard except it is hot and sweaty. I have only put my waterproofs on once and I suspect that might be it for the leg. Steve Hayles continues to do a great job navigating in very difficult circumstances and James Carroll is settling in nicely.
‘There are no signs of any pirates yet but we have come pretty close twice to colliding with fishing boats - one incident in particular in the middle of the night was described by Neal as ‘the closest he has ever come to hitting one!’ - I guess that’s too close for comfort then!’
Leg Three Day Four: 1000 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 1345
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +10
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +10
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +12
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +14
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +25
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +55
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) +66