And more misery for Abu Dhabi as the fleet starts Leg 5 from Auckland to Brazil

The Volvo fleet faced a pounding in the opening few days of leg 5 from Auckland to Itajai, Brazil. Just five and a half hours into the race Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi team were forced to suspend racing and return to Auckland for repairs after a bulkhead in the bow became detached.

This is the second time that Walker’s team has been forced to suspend racing, the previous time being shortly after the start of the first leg when they were dismasted.

According to official reports, the team was forced to suspend racing at 0630 UTC, just five-and-a-half hours into the leg, after its Volvo Open 70 crashed off a steep wave and ripped a bulkhead in their bow, which secures a crucial heavy weather headsail, clean out.

Skipper Ian Walker described the situation as “not disastrous”, saying that if it had happened a week into the leg the team would have carried on.

However, given the team’s location Walker said it made sense to return for repairs especially as they needed a sound bulkhead to enable them to use their J4 sail, which will be needed for as much as 80 per cent of the Southern Ocean stretch.

“We discussed it and took the decision that we’re only 40 miles from Auckland, let’s come back and we’ll probably repair it quicker and better, and then we can get back out and try to catch everyone up,” he said.

Abu Dhabi team director Jamie Boag said he expected repairs to take about 24 hours.

“The guys are back here in one piece and the problem is pretty straightforward,” he said. “They were so close to our big resources here in Auckland that I think they made the right decision to come back. We will try to get the boys turned round as quickly as we can and get them back in the race. It should be 24 to 30 hours or so.”

Leg 5 Start Highlights

Meanwhile the rest of the fleet faced 37 knots winds and six metre seas on the opening night.

At 1900 UTC on Sunday night (18 March) Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) led as the fleet having overtaken early race leaders Camper.

According to weather experts, the already well-developed South Pacific low-pressure system to the northeast of Auckland is set to intensify as it moves towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean. As the strong tropical depression moves south and east, it is blocking the route past East Cape with strong headwinds. This has caused the skippers and navigators to shy away from the traditional course across the Bay of Plenty and, instead of diving hard south, the fleet, now reduced to five boats, has headed north from Auckland to set up a better angle for heavy wind ahead.

The leg, which sees a return to the more familiar and traditional Southern Ocean route of the Volvo Ocean Race will as always be watched closely, but with overall race leader Telefonica’s tripping up during the in port racing on Saturday where Martinez’ team finished in last place, the overall points gap between the Spanish team and second placed Groupama has narrowed to 15 points with Camper 3 points further behind in third.

With the race now half way through in distance, the competition is starting to hot up with the promise of some of the toughest conditions yet in store.