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And then there were four ...



The extreme sea conditions took their toll during a dramatic first 24 hours of the Volvo Ocean Race as two boats were forced to suspend racing due to equipment failure.


Just over six hours into the Race, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's yacht Azzam's mast broke in two places going through 5 metre waves and winds of up to 30 knots off the Spanish coast, about 30 miles south west of Cartagena. Then Sanya reported hull damage while sailing upwind through 10 metre waves. Both suspended racing immediately.


Azzam is now back in Alicante. Azzam's crew recovered the rig in a dramatic sea rescue and came back to Alicante before launching into a round-the-clock repair effort. A replacement mast has arrived in Alicante.


Sanya made way to the port of Motril to assess the damage. Sanya bowman Andy Meiklejohn injured his foot during a sail change and once ashore sought medical advice. Doctors have confirmed his foot is broken.


Azzam skipper Ian Walker said his heart was in his mouth as Azzam leapt off the back of a steep wave at around 12 knots before crashing back down.


“I was steering and we just came off a big wave,” he said. “I know it’s a big wave when my feet leave the ground. You always have your heart in your mouth when that happens. When we landed the mast just kept going. We immediately numbered off which is our safety drill to make sure we haven’t lost anyone over the side. Then we set about trying to retrieve whatever we could.”


Mike Sanderson, skipper of Team Sanya, the first sole Chinese entry in the race, also promised to bounce back from the setback in a message from the boat written while they were an hour away from port.


“Right now we have no idea how major the damage is,” Sanderson said. “We are all safe though. “The guys are doing a fantastic job, all very positive and working incredibly hard even though you can see the bitter disappointment on all there faces.


“Be under no illusion though, we will be back with vengeance.”


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.”


Those sentiments were echoed by Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad, who competed in the race four times himself, twice as skipper.


“These are some of the toughest conditions boats can run into in the Volvo Ocean Race but the teams and their shore crews are fully prepared for these types of incidents and they will be working around the clock to get the boats back racing as soon as possible.”


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.


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Track the Race here