With the fleet safely aboard, the ship bearing the five boats is due to leave its secret location today

The ship bearing the five boats that make up the current Volvo fleet is due to leave its secret location today (Wed) and head for the second secret location somewhere in the Gulf of Oman.

In the most extraordinary leg of the Volvo/Whitbread’s history the fleet (minus Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya that is currently still in Madagascar), is being shipped through the pirate strewn Indian Ocean. The unnamed ship is due to arrive in the Gulf some time in the New Year from where the boats will be launched and the last few miles to the finish in Abu Dhabi completed.

Here’s the official word on the progress as of last night (Tue).

Sailors and shore crew pulled all-nighters to prepare their boats for the risky operation from the moment they crossed the finish line of the first stage at a secret location in the Indian Ocean.

Telefónica was the first yacht to be loaded when the action began at 0800 UTC, with the team cautiously taking more than one and a half hours to lift the 15 tonne boat with her 31 metre mast intact.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand were the second to be lifted, followed by PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Groupama sailing team. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam was the last to be hoisted, with the yacht lifted at about 1530 UTC.

Each crew watched on nervously as their yacht was lifted from the water, knowing full well that a tiny sway of the yacht during the transition could see it come in contact with the vessel and cause irreparable damage.

Fortunately, while the conditions were hot and muggy, the sea state was flat and perfect for assisting crews attach several cables to their yachts in the delicate operation, the like of which has never been seen in the Volvo Ocean Race’s 38-year history.

Race organisers have recruited the very best expertise in hoisting the yachts with a DHL representative on hand to offer advice plus the five experienced shore crews from the teams still competing in Leg 2.

The ship’s loadmaster, who cannot be named to avoid identifying the vessel, said the operation was proving a success. “I will need to check some final things tomorrow such as the boat lashings and then we’ll leave around lunchtime,” he said.

The ship is expected to leave for the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, a journey that will take several days. The boats will then be unloaded and the leg will restart to Abu Dhabi, the Volvo Ocean Race’s first ever Middle Eastern stopover. The sailors and shore crews will not be on board the ship during the transit.

Teams will face the same exercise again twice for Leg 3, a total of 20 manoeuvres which makes for one nervous time for race director Jack Lloyd.

“Going into the water is no more certain of success than coming out of the water,” he said. “So in 20 times, there’s a chance that something will go wrong.”

The shipping of the fleet was necessitated because of the threat of an attack from pirates.