And another blow for grand prix yacht racing?

More bad news from the Far East as Ericsson 3 is forced to retire following a crack in her hull. Having patched up the boat and stemmed the ingress of water, the Nordic team, who had been lying in second place are currently making their way to Taiwan.

The incident will send shock waves through the remaining fleet. Crews were anxious before they started the leg, the first gale, in which the hideous sea state caused more damage that the wind speed, drove the message home. Ericsson 3 was one of the best prepared boats from a team that was widely acknowledged as being the best funded and prepared in the fleet.

And more bad weather is on the way.

Leg 4 continues to prove how demanding this race has become, despite early concerns that the tough elements had been stripped out of this famous race when the route was changed. As they say in online forums, that thread is now officially dead.

Pulling out of this leg is particularly worrying for the teams concerned. The Qingdao stopover is a short one with an in-port race on the 7 Feb. With Ericsson 4 forging ahead at the front of the overall leader board, teams can ill afford to miss this points opportunity. Worse still would be to miss the start of the next leg on the 14 Feb and the scoring gates that rack up yet more points. Simply getting the boats to Qingdao and repairing them in time in freezing conditions is now the big challenge for those who haven’t made it to the leg finish in China.

Of course the biggest irony is that the one boat in the fleet that was considered the most robust and most likely to thrive in such conditions was the boat that had to pull out, or at least postpone its involvement in the race, at Singapore. The Rob Humphreys designed Kosatka, Team Russia’s boat, was short on righting moment and hence power thanks to the additional tonne that went into the structure of the boat rather than the bulb.

To finish first, first you have to finish as they say. Unfortunately we’ll never know whether the strategy would have paid off on this brutal leg for the Russians.

But the longer term question that will doubtless be asked is whether the widespread damage was the fault of the conditions or the design and construction of the boats? Or perhaps the rule is the issue?

With such a large drop out from the Vendee Globe, it seems inevitable that the racing world will, or at least should, be asking what went wrong.