Unexpected chance to catch up on fleet

Monday 7th November:

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were working to get their stricken boat back in the water and take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to make up ground on the four teams still racing in Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Monday.

While Team Sanya were forced to look ahead to Cape Town because of the extent of the damage to the boat´s hull, there was still plenty at stake for Abu Dhabi, who were hoping to be back in the race within the next couple of days after their mast broke — an experience described by young Emirati crewmember Adil Khalid as the scariest in his life.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand led the four-boat fleet out of the Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic, followed by Team Telefónica, Groupama sailing team and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG.

After being slammed around for that first 24 hours by winds up to 80 kph, they were hit by the opposite problem and the four boats were forced to go looking for wind to the west – a search that was proving tricky at 1300 UTC on Monday.

“The next few days will be a big mess,” Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias said by Inmarsat satellite phone from the boat. “The winds are sure to be light, there are no trade winds and it will be very painful to reach the Doldrums.

Ken Read, skipper on PUMA’s Mar Mostro, echoed that feeling: “There are no real trade winds out here so we are going to most likely look elsewhere for wind in order to get south.”

Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez tried to look on the bright side.

“There’s very little breeze and we are trying to fill the sails but with only momentary success,” he said. “The good thing is that we have all been able to sleep a bit and to eat well. We are starting to work up a routine according to the watches and to eat at night. All good down here and everyone’s in a good mood.”

After looking like the best they could hope for from Leg 1 would be five points for sixth place, Abu Dhabi are now gunning for 10 points for fifth, given that Sanya’s best hope is to ship their damaged boat to Cape Town in time for Leg 2.

If they are fortunate with the weather in the Mediterranean and pick up stronger winds in the Atlantic, they may even get closer to their rivals than they thought possible when they headed back towards Alicante on Saturday.

On Monday, they were working to get the replacement mast fitted a race against time.

“I don’t think anyone is expecting us to launch out of here and take three or four days off the other guys,” said Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam. “But having said that the weather is a funny thing and we have seen it before in other races where people stop or start late and actually benefit from the weather.

“Right now the weather is not looking particularly kind for us so we will just do what we always do and get there as quick as we can.”

While Abu Dhabi were preparing to return to the race, Sanya had their eyes turned towards Cape Town and getting a quick repair done before the second in-port race on December 10 and the start of Leg 2 a day later.

“As it stands right now we are 100 per cent focused on getting to Cape Town,” skipper Mike Sanderson said.

The mood in the Abu Dhabi camp was very different from Saturday, when the breakage took place.

“It was the scariest day of my life for sure,” said Khalid, who was chosen from more than 120 hopefuls to be the first ever Emirati to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“Being out at sea, in the dead of night, and having that happen… We were well drilled for the situation and behaved so calmly and professionally. However, your heart is beating really fast and you thank god everyone is safe.”

Photo: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s yacht Azzam, skippered by Britain’s Ian Walker, returns to Alicante, Spain after the mast broke in rough weather on the first day of racing on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

Courtesy Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race

Our full Volvo report will be in our January issue, out 8th December.