55knot winds and 'horrendous seas' force the retirement as battered and broken teams shelter from the storm. Matthew Sheahan reports

Leg 4 from Singapore has lived up to the expectations of the crew after a 50knot plus storm accompanied by mountainous seas swept through the fleet as it set out to cross the Luzon Strait, northwards towards Taiwan.

With wind against tide the seas were described as horrendous by many of the crews and soon the list of breakages started to build.

But one boat, Telefonica Blue, has managed break from the fleet, survive the conditions and now commands an impressive lead.

But first, here’s a summary of a boat breaking weekend.

Delta Lloyd – Damaged mainsail and steering. Took shelter in bay of Salomague Harbour, just north of Vigan to make repairs.

“It happened between 2 and 3 PM at about 20 miles to the west of Cubagao/ Philippines. At the time we had 35 knots of wind speed, gusting up to 40 knots along with 3-4 meter waves,” said Sander Pluijm. “These conditions came earlier than expected. The guys were putting in a third reef, when the leech tore. While dropping the main, the lazy jacks broke and the boom fell on deck.” In this whole process, the steering and rail got damaged as well. Pluijm continues: “The storm jib and trysail were hoisted immediately. We first tried to carry on to Taiwan and to do the repairs over there. However, we decided that it was not smart to go through 40-45 knots of breeze and 8-9 meter waves. These boats are simply not made for upwind racing in those kind of conditions.”

Green Dragon – Broken forestay then discovered structural damage to the bow that forced the team to stop the boat, sail downwind and then also head for the shelter of bay of Salomague Harbour, joining Delta Lloyd.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t last the tough going as we sustained damage in the bow of the boat,” said skipper Ian Walker. “Fortunately, we spotted it quickly and managed to stop the boat and get downwind before damaging the hull skin.

As I type this at 3am Tom Braidwood, Neal McDonald and Justin Slattery are chiselling, sanding, cutting and preparing to bond back all the broken bits. We have to hope their repair holds out to get us to Qingdao.”

Puma – Broke boom. Headed out into Luzon Strait but turned around and headed back for shelter.

“We’re busted and we are in a harbour. It’s pretty disappointing, said skipper Ken Read. Quite a devastating day for us. We have broken our boom in half. At the time, there was 50 knots of breeze and 20-foot seas, with waves breaking over the top of the boat. We haven’t suspended racing, we just don’t happen to be sailing right now.”

Telefonica Black – headed out into the Strait with team mates Telefonica blue, but turned back when they discovered crack in the hull to deck join. After inspecting the damage the team retired and are motoring to Subic Bay.

Ericsson 4 – Take shelter behind Luzon island – No reported gear breakages.

“We have been sheltering behind Luzon Island for most of the day after trying to go upwind in 45 knots,” said Guy Salter. “All I can say is that is was far from pleasant. We ended sailing the last few hours with storm jib only – slowly creeping our way closer to the top of the Philippines before waiting for an ease in pressure to attempt the crossing over to Taiwan and through some very tidal seas – which could be boat-wreckers to say the least.”

Ericsson 3 – Takes shelter and then heads out into the strait.

“Sledge hammered,” says Gustav Morin. “It takes a while to get use to it. And you will never be entirely comfortable with it.

Today we have seen wind of almost 50 knots and seas that I’m pretty sure measured around eight metres. You’re looking straight up in the sky when it hits you, and well over the top it’s free falling. One, two three and bam!

Inside the boat, at the front by the galley, it’s worst. The bangs and crashes are sometimes so brutal that you really wonder when and not if the boat is going to break. And, if you don’t hold on properly, and have a good place too put your feet, you will hurt yourself, badly.

Our boat captain Jens Dolmer is actually not taking part in the watch system anymore. His main task now is to take care of and look after the boat, so we know how hard we can push.”

Meanwhile, Bouwe Bekking’s Telefonica Blue continued out into the Luzon Strait in an attempt to make a break for it. With the keel centralised and just a storm jib set, the crew nursed the boat through the serious conditions to take the lead.

Watch out for the March issue of Yachting World in which Ericsson’s Meteorolgist Chris Bedford explains why this and the next leg are two of the toughest of the entire race. March Issue published 12 Feb.


Ericsson 3’s navigator Aksel Magdahl describes the extreme conditions 

Volvo Skippers and navigators talk of their anxieties before the start of this brutal leg 

Video as the forestay breaks on Green Dragon 

This week’s Shoretalk: Leg 4 VOR claims its first victim 

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