After assessing the situation and plugging a large hole, Sanderson and his team are heading back to Auckland

This morning (Thur 22 March) the news from Team Sanya was elation at leading the fleet, but by late afternoon their plight had gone from heroes to disaster as one if their two rudders broke.

Here’s how the news was reported on the official Volvo site:

22 Mar 2012, 10:23UTC

Sanya, who were leading Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí in Brazil at the time, reported the damage to Race Control in Alicante at 0800 UTC after the rudderstock sheared off.

The team, skippered by former race winner Mike Sanderson, said they had worked through the aft deck hatch to pump water from the aft watertight compartment.

“There was an almighty bang that came from the back of the boat, just a metre away from where I was sitting, bailing water out of the aft compartment,” MCM Andrés Soriano explained.

“Initially I could not tell what it was, until I looked around with my head torch on. What I found was gut wrenching. The rudderstock had sheared off just under deck level. I could tell there was no rudder left looking at what remained. Instantly, massive amounts of water filled the aft compartment I was in.”

The team then successfully plugged the hole, using a piece of carbon plate.

“We are now a watertight vessel again,” said boat captain Richard Mason.

The team are now working out what to do next.

“Right now, the plan is to get north as soon as possible to get out of a building breeze,” said Soriano. “The plan is still up in the air, but as Mike stated our main priority is crew safety.”

Volvo Open 70s have two rudders and each boat also carries one extra emergency rudder. This rudder can be mounted either on the stern or through the same bearings as the original rudders.

The problem occurred on Thursday, Day 5 of Leg 5 from Auckland in New Zealand to Itajaí in Brazil.

At the time, Sanya held a slim lead over four other boats in the main pack with over 5,500 nautical miles to go to the finish line.

It is the third big setback suffered by Sanya since the start of the race. Shortly after leaving Alicante on Leg 1 they suffered major bow damage that meant they had to be shipped to Cape Town.

Then, while leading the fleet on Leg 2, a key piece of rigging broke, forcing them to head to Madagascar for repairs.

22 Mar 2012, 13:52UTC

Team Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson has been left lost for words today after his Chinese team’s starboard rudder bearing snapped as they were leading the fleet on Leg 5 from New Zealand to Brazil.

“We’ve been in preservation mode for the past few hours. We had to save the boat” – Mike Sanderson

The breakage happened as Sanya was travelling at high speed and immediately sent the boat into a crash gybe with water pouring into the aft compartment.

After some swift action by the crew to seal off the stern section and get the boat back under control a fuller damage assessment revealed that the starboard rudderstock had sheared off inside the hull.

Still weighing up his team’s immediate options Sanderson said the most urgent priority had been to plug the hole torn in the aft of the boat when the rudderstock snapped.

“We’ve been in preservation mode for the past few hours,” he said. “We had to save the boat.

“The rudder snapped in between the boat and the deck, which is just the worst thing that can happen because then it just leverages itself off he boat and leaves a pretty messy trail.”

“The thing is we had all the sails stacked aft on deck, we had the aft ballast tank and the whole all the gear stacked downstairs in the back of the boat,” Sanderson said. “So as soon as we stopped of course water just started rushing in. It is the second time we’ve heard water coming into this boat at that sort of pace, so it’s pretty scary.

“The whole aft compartment was full of water, about three to four tonnes and it was pressing.

Sanderson said the crash gybe immediately following the incident had laid the boat almost flat and taken a considerable time to recover from.

“We went into a Chinese gybe, so suddenly we’re pinned on our side dragging the sails through the water with a lot of heel on,” he said. “We had the keel out the wrong side and the sail stack all on the wrong side. But you know, it’s just a process you work through and take your time.

The rudder snapped as Sanya were leading the fleet and sailing at speeds of around 25 knots. According to Sanderson this made the current situation all the harder to swallow particularly after putting on an impressive performance during the Auckland stopover.

“We were very pleased with our leg from a performance standpoint. We won the pro-am race, we got a fourth in the in-port race and we led the fleet out of Auckland,” he said.

“We were really pleased we were in a lead and in a really nice spot to extend our lead. We were sailing along pretty fast, between 20-30 knots of boat speed in nice conditions with winds gutting up to 30 knots, when these boats are at their fastest,” he said.

“We’re just gutted, it hasn’t even quite sunk in for sure.

“But first and foremost is ensuring everyone is safe and well. The guys have just finished fixing the hole, which has taken a couple of hours and we’ve fitted the emergency steering.

“But we’re not out of the woods yet, we’ve got a temporary repair on the back of the boat and we have plenty of work ahead of us yet.”

22 Mar 2012, 17:44UTC

Team Sanya are heading towards New Zealand after suffering damage to their starboard rudder earlier today.

The team expect to take between four and five days to reach New Zealand and they continue to assess their options in terms of how to get back in the race as quickly as possible.

Skipper Mike Sanderson said he and the crew were devastated to have suffered the damage, which occurred after they led the fleet out of Auckland at the start of the leg and then moved into first place again shortly before the rudder breakage.

“It’s unbelievable, I’m just lost for words,” Sanderson said shortly after making an assessment of the broken rudder which also tore a hole in the back of the boat flooding the aft compartment.

“The rudder snapped in between the boat and the deck which is just the worst thing that can happen because then it just leverages itself off he boat and leaves a pretty messy trail,” he said.

Sanderson said the crew had been in ‘preservation mode’ for several hours after the incident which happened at 0800 UTC today as Sanya were powering along at speeds of around 25 knots at the head of the fleet.

“We had to save the boat,” Sanderson said. “We had the whole aft compartment full of water, about three to four tonnes, and it was pressing.

“The guys have just finished fixing the hole which has taken a couple of hours and we’ve fitted the emergency steering and we’ll be heading back to New Zealand.”

He added: “It will be what it will be. But we’ve just got to really focus on getting the guys back there safely and getting our boat back there so we can live to fight another day.”