And then there were four… as Mike Sanderson’s team heads for shore with hull damage

Less than 24 hours after the start of Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race, two of the six boats in the fleet have suspended racing with serious structural problems. First it was Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi team, now Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya is limping towards the shore.

Aksel Magdahl, navigator on board Team Sanya, reported at 0834 UTC Sunday, November 6 that they had suffered hull damage on the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

Skipper Mike Sanderson has confirmed to Volvo Ocean Race control: “The situation is very much under control, everyone is obviously disappointed but in good spirits as all are safe on board.”

The boat was approximately 30 nautical miles SE of Motril, on the coast of Spain. The wind was blowing 43 plus knots and the waves were around 10.5 metres.

The watertight doors had already been closed as a precaution due to the prevailing conditions and the boat is making its way to Puerto de Motril. After entering flat water, Team Sanya have suspended racing.

Volvo Ocean Race control is in constant contact with the team while establishing the full extent of the damage so that the crew are given full support to enable them to deal with the situation.

Team Sanya’s shore team are working on a recovery plan to ensure the yacht can rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race as soon as practically possible.

Sanderson and the team were still assessing the damage to Sanya, the only one of the six boats that is not brand new, in Motril on Sunday. It was not immediately clear what had caused the incident.

“We are fighters and our goal remains to take some scalps and get ourselves on the podium a couple of times and get in everyone’s way and see how many points we can earn,” said Sanderson. “We can do that – there’s no doubt about it.”

On the racecourse, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand led the fleet towards the Strait of Gibraltar, with Team Telefónica and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG hard on her heels near the Spanish coast. Groupama sailing team were approaching the Strait via the African coast in what was a tight race.

Teams are set to receive some relief from the battering, with the westerly winds and short, choppy sea state due to ease.

Chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said a high-pressure system west of Gibraltar would see winds drop to about 15 knots in the strait, and again to about 10 knots on the other side.

However, the teams will be pushing against two knots of tide through the natural bottleneck, which they are expected to reach at 2000 UTC.

Infante said the fleet may well split once entering the Atlantic, with some opting for the immediate boost of heavier air in the south, while others may hunt the benefit of a distant low in the west that won’t kick in for several hours.

“If we have a split of the fleet tomorrow, some in the south and some in the west, we will see the pay-off in 48 hours,” he said. “It looks like west is best, but this is still a bit risky.”