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The Volvo Ocean Race's sixth leg sets sail from Rio de Janiero tomorrow

Friday April 10th 2009, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: United Kingdom
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is scheduled to start leg six from Rio de Janeiro to Boston at 15:00 local time (18:00 GMT) on Saturday afternoon. While the start port is home to Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael, the finish line represents the race coming to the hometown of the Puma Ocean Racing team.

“I won’t lie, it’s good to be going home, I haven’t been home since September 1st of last year and to have family, friends, supporters, sponsors all waiting on the dock to see their boys and their boat and that’s going to be really good,” Puma skipper Ken Read said at the leg press conference today, from the Marina da Gloria in Rio. “But with it comes the added pressure of everybody saying, ‘this is the one you have to win’. It’s a pressure I’ve felt with the team this week and we’re trying to downplay it. This is just another leg, we have to stay consistent, and let the chips fall where they may. But with that said, it’s really good to be going home.”

Significantly, for Volvo Ocean Race veterans, this is just the second ‘traditional’ leg in this edition of the race, and it comes on the heels of four legs which visited new ports in Asia.

“I think the last two legs we’ve talked about boats breaking and been asking, ‘Will we get there?’” said Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker. “This leg, it doesn’t seem like we will have all those hurdles, but it’s still an ocean leg, a lot of things can still happen. As a team, we don’t want to underestimate this leg.”

At nearly 5,000 nautical miles, the sixth stage of the race is less than half the distance of the marathon leg five which brought the fleet here to Rio. There is a scoring waypoint at Fernando de Noronha, where four scoring points are available to the leading boat (diminishing by a half point for each of the subsequent boats).

“This will be a boat speed leg,” said Telefonica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking. His team is in third place, two points behind Puma and 11.5 back of the leader, Ericsson 4. And they need a good result. “It is crucial for us. We have to be first at the scoring gate and we have to be first in Boston, because we have to pick up the points.”

At the head of the fleet, Ericsson 4 is in an enviable position, with a 9.5 point lead over Puma. But with nearly half of the race points yet to be contested, skipper Torben Grael says it’s way too early to be changing strategy. He says his team needs to sail their own race.

“The position we are in is a good one, for sure,” Grael said. “But there is a long way to go still, especially on points. So there are some situations where you can be a little conservative, but if you’re too conservative all the time, you’re not going to win the race. We have to go and fight for the points.”

Tomorrow’s start marks the return of Telefónica Black and Team Delta Lloyd to offshore competition. Both boats were shipped to Rio after being damaged on the leg to Qingdao; they missed the last leg. Both skippers are eager to make a mark again.

“This is our opportunity,” said Fernando Echavarri, skipper of Telefónica Black. “We don’t have any excuses. We have a new sail inventory and I think the boat is in good shape to push to be on the podium in this leg.”

“It will be difficult. Every team has very good sailors but if we can get a good finish in Boston, it would be great for us,” agreed Delta Lloyd skipper Roberto Bermúdez.

Ericsson 3 won the longest leg in the history of the race to get to Rio. Skipper Magnus Olsson joked that he’s planning to stay close to Puma for this leg, perhaps hoping to glean some local knowledge on the approach to the finish in Boston.

The forecast for start time on Saturday is for light southwesterly winds in the 4 to 9 knot range under mostly sunny skies. Predominantly light to moderate winds are expected for the first days of the leg.

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