Volvo Ocean Race Leg 5: Historic Win for Ericsson 3 After Epic Struggle

Tony CastaneiraAnalyst IMarch 27, 2009

Veteran skipper Magnus Olsson has led Ericsson 3 with to victory in leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race, crossing the finishing line in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro.

The longest leg in the 36-year history of the event at 12,300 nm, it took Olsson and his crew 40 days, 5 hours, 37 minutes, and 57 seconds to complete.

Understandably pleased with the result, Olsson said: "It’s unbelievable. We actually deserve it.  We had a fantastic strategy when we needed it. Aksel did a really good job on that. We were so tired but we had a great fighting spirit to the end. 

"We sailed really well, and our performance was 100 percent all the time.  We were on the borderline of destroying the boat, but we managed to find a balance and we managed to keep the boat in one piece."

What made this win all the more extraordinary is that the team had been at sea for three days longer than the rest of the fleet when they arrived at the finish line at the Marina da Gloria today having had no time for rest and relaxation during their short stopover in Qingdao.

During the gale-ridden leg four from Singapore to China Ericsson 3 had suffered structural damage.  The damage was so severe Olsson had been forced to suspend racing on Jan. 27 as they were in serious danger of sinking.

Ericsson 3 managed to limp to Taiwan where they made significant repairs allowing them to resume racing on Feb. 11.

Once they finally arrived in Qingdao Olsson and his crew had just over an hour to load 40 days’ worth of food and diesel and set sail again on the most challenging and potentially perilous leg of the course, chasing the rest of the fleet that had already left seven hours earlier. 

Ericsson 3 was quickly back in contention, moving up to third place by day three, a position they held their own until 19 days into the leg when Olsson made the winning move.

Ignoring historic navigational strategy that declared "south was best," immediately after crossing the first scoring gate they tacked northeast away from the fleet. 

Ericsson 3’s navigator, Aksel Magdahl, believed that the best course was to head north of the high pressure that sat between the fleet and Cape Horn and Olsson followed his young navigator’s decision.

Magdahl explained his strategy around the high pressure at the time:  “Eighteen hours before the gate I realized this high did not seem to move so fast anymore.  I was also looking at a very interesting small, but powerful low pressure coming in from the northeast, and I thought a bit around whether it was possible to use this, rather than going slow south underneath the high pressure and even risking getting to close to it.”

The northern route paid off two days later, as Ericsson 3 took the lead and held on to it tightly for 19 days until they crossed the line first to win leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The next boat to finish was Torben Grael’s Ericsson 4 followed by America’s Ken Read at the helm of PUMA.  Telefónica Blue and Green Dragon have still yet to arrive in Rio de Janeiro.

Leg Five Finishing Order Rio
1. Ericsson 3: 8 points
2. Ericsson 4: 7 points
3. PUMA: 6 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)   34.5 (RACING)
6. Telefónica Black  21 (DNS)
7. Delta Lloyd  12 (DNS)
8. Team Russia  10.5 (DNS)