The longest leg of the race started today, but just 3 boats made it to the line. Matthew Sheahan reports

Four boats were due to start leg 5 from Qingdao to Rio. At 12,000 miles this is the longest leg of the race and equivalent to half way around the world. After the battering the fleet received on the previous leg, just four boats had made it to Qingdao. Ericsson 3, having decided to make repairs in Taiwain, was struggling to complete the leg to China in time for the start, but headwinds ensured that the Nordic team would not make the start in time.
So it was the four boats that had raced in the in port race the weekend before, that headed out towards the start today. Until that is, Telefonica Blue dropped her sails and headed back to port, just minutes before the start. Skipper Bouwe Bekking turned his boat back towards Qingdao. He had informed the Race Committee that his team were suspending racing, which under the rules, must be for a minimum of two hours.

The boat was immediately hauled out of the water to assess the damage caused when the boat went aground briefly, at a speed of six or seven knots. A crewman immediately went into the water, but was unable see clearly the extent of the problem and Bekking made the decision to suspend racing. The boat could possibly need a full structural check, something which could take up to 24 hours.

“The biggest concern is a crack just above the bulb,” said skipper Bouwe Bekking after a brief look at the keel. “All the paint has disappeared – something has moved from over there. We are going to take the bulb off and have a look. That crack shouldn’t have been there. We want to make 100% sure because we aren’t going to the quietest place. We have to do it the proper way.”

Meanwhile, out on the race course, code zero sails were set and PUMA (Ken Read/USA) overhauled Green Dragon to take the lead as the three boats edged their way up the first two-mile stretch of the course in the very light and variable breeze towards the first rounding mark.

A small, but well-behaved flotilla of spectators gathered to watch the start under clear blue skies, keeping clear of the racing yachts so as not to impede their progress.

At first mark, PUMA had gained control and, with a man at the top of the mast searching for wind, rounded 53 seconds ahead of Green Dragon. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA), sailing with the same crew that started the race in Alicante, was in third place, seven seconds behind.

At the second mark, it was PUMA from Ericsson 4 and Green Dragon as the skyline of Qingdao faded into the distance and the crews settled down to face up to 40 days at sea as they race around the bottom of the world and across one of the most desolate oceans on earth.

Yet to complete leg four from Singapore, Ericsson 3 skippered by Magnus Olsson/SWE, (former skipper Anders Lewander has been stood down from his previous role as skipper despite three podium finishes), had just 21nm to run to the leg four finish line in Qingdao in order to collect four more points as the rest of the fleet headed off on the next leg. The team resumed racing in leg four on Wednesday having been forced to stop in Taiwan.

Overall Leaderboard
1. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA): 49 points
2. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED): 42 points (3 points deducted for change of rudders)
3. PUMA (Ken Read/USA): 41 points
4. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR): 30 points
5. Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE): 24 points (pending finish of leg four)
6. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP): 21 points
7. Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP): 12 points
8. Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT): 10.5 points

Listen to Torben Grael, Bouwe Bekking, Ken Read and Ian Walker on their thoughts about the longest leg of the race and the smallest fleet so far