The full Volvo Ocean Race fleet is back together for the first time in over a month, after PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG limped into Cape Town with just days to spare before racing resumes in conditions that will once again test the teams to the limit. Leg 2 will start on Sunday December 11th to Abu Dhabi.
The six boats in the 2011-12 edition are preparing to rejoin battle over the weekend with the second of 10 in-port races on Saturday (1300 UTC) and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi on Sunday at the same time.
Weather forecasts suggest the teams will be heading straight back into possible boat-breaking conditions in Leg 2, with the teams facing the prospect of beating upwind in up to 30-35 knots for the first 24 hours. That will raise uncomfortable memories for at least some of the fleet after the havoc wreaked on the way out from Alicante.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya were forced out of the leg due to damage caused in a brutal first 24 hours. PUMA's Mar Mostro, skippered by the American Ken Read, was the third boat forced to retire later in the race after breaking her mast.
"I do feel of sense of nervousness before the leg start," said Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson, who led ABN AMRO ONE to victory in 2005-06. "Given a forecast of 35 knots on the nose at the start there's not too much of a settling in period!"
The three teams that actually finished Leg 1 - winners Team Telefónica, second-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama sailing team in third - have had more time to prepare their boats but are still working against the clock to get back in peak condition after three weeks at sea. The first targets are the non-scoring practice race on Thursday and the pro-am on Friday and it is still not clear how many will be ready in time.
Abu Dhabi were the first team to suffer from the heinous conditions in the Mediterranean on the first night, as they came off a huge wave and broke their mast. A few hours later, Sanya's second generation Volvo Open 70 racing yacht suffered massive damage to her hull.
Both teams ended up shipping their boats to Cape Town but their adventures were nothing compared to the odyssey endured by PUMA, whose dismasting in the southern Atlantic left them in real trouble.
Their only option was to crawl to the world's most remote human settlement at Tristan da Cunha and they only made it that far thanks to a Greek freighter that diverted to pass them over some diesel.
After regaining their strength with beer and lobsters on Tristan, they were eventually picked up by the container ship TEAM BREMEN, dispatched from South Africa to help them, and after arriving back on Tuesday night they were hauled back into the water and motored round to the team's shore base in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Their target is to get the replacement mast fitted and be back sailing as early as Wednesday evening.
"Our ability to get back competing in this race will depend on what we do over the next couple of days," Read said after stepping off the boat to a heartfelt welcome from wife Kathy, 31 days after leaving Alicante.
"Our shore crew have been itching to get the boat and now we'll get to see what they're made of. My hunch is that they're made of some pretty good stuff."
Abu Dhabi have fitted a new set of rigging and are back in the water, while Sanya expect to be sailing again by Wednesday night.
On Thursday, the teams are due to take part in the non-scoring practice race, though it is unclear whether the three damaged boats will be ready in time.
The same goes for Friday's pro-am, though at the moment all six boats are on track to take the line in the V&A Waterfront In-Port Race and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi. The route for the that leg has been substantially redrawn because of the threat of piracy, with the teams now set to be transported by ship between two Safe Haven Ports, to take them through the worst affected area.
Abu Dhabi won the first of the 10 in-port races in this edition in Alicante, briefly taking first place on the leaderboard. The current situation is:
1. Team Telefónica - 31 points
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand - 29 points
3. Groupama sailing team - 22 points
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 6 points
5. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG - 5 points
6. Team Sanya - 3 points
Team Telefónica: The first boat to finish came in with the boat in immaculate condition, according to team technical chief Horacio Carabelli. Theirs has been a problem-free stopover, with the boat going back in the water on Monday and the team having the luxury of giving the rigging a careful check.
"Even though we knew the mast is fine we took it apart," said Fernando Sales, who is responsible for the mast. "We had time and what we decided to do was to take the entire thing apart. That means we took out everything that might be unscrewed, loosened or moved along the way: all of the spreaders came out and the fixings which fix them to the mast itself, as well as the shrouds, and all of this had to be put back together. We took everything that forms part of the mast apart to give it a good clean and to put it through ultrasound testing".
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand: CAMPER have also had plenty of time to work on their boat, with skipper Chris Nicholson satisfied that the problem they had with the rigging on the way into Cape Town was purely down to human error rather than any technical fault. "There was no rigging failure and we didn't almost drop the rig," Nicholson said. "What happened was down to a handling error on our behalf. Was I happy with that? No and I made that very clear to the guys and it won't happen again."
Groupama sailing team: After coming in third, three days behind the winners, Groupama have been checking everything meticulously. Their boat is in the water again and no major problems have been detected. "These past six days have seen us checking the carbon and mechanical structures and we also unstepped the boat's mast, daggerboards and rudders," said head of boat construction Pierre Tissier. "We also cleaned the hull beneath the waterline and checked over the whole structure. Some slight repairs and modifications have been required to improve life for the sailors on board. We haven't encountered any problems and Groupama 4 is in tip-top condition."
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG: The team arrived at the shore base around 0100 on Wednesday and skipper Ken Read told reporters the crew would be pulling an all-nighter, with a view to getting her back in the water with the replacement mast stepped and even sailing again the same day.
"Our ability to get back competing in the race depends on what we do over the next couple of days," said Read. "The other teams will get faster on every leg but can we get faster too? Will we get left behind? We'll have a good idea early in Leg 2."
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: Everything has gone to schedule for Ian Walker's team since the boat came in on a container ship. The rig has been installed and tuned and the team were able to go out sailing on Wednesday. "Azzam is back in the water and looking good for contention come the race restart," said Walker. "There is still more work to be done on refining the mast and rigging but we are committed to living up to Azzam's determination moniker and be fighting fit for our home leg to Abu Dhabi."
Team Sanya: The enormous hole in the hull has been repaired thanks to round-the-clock work from a team of boat-builders brought in from New Zealand. The boat will be launched on Wednesday afternoon and the team should be back sailing by Thursday.
"Today is a day of split feelings really," said skipper Mike Sanderson. "On the one hand I cannot praise enough everyone that has been involved in the process of getting our boat back into race mode again. On the other hand, I do feel of sense of nervousness before the leg start. There are four boats out training and here we are this morning going on our keel and going into the water only tonight. That should not detract in any way from the great work done, but for sure my apprehension has gone up probably. Also given a forecast of 35 knots on the nose at the start there is not too much of a settling in period! The most important thing right now is to get out sailing tomorrow and for sure a lot of those nervous feelings will go once we are sailing again."
Cape Town Stopover race schedule:
Friday December 9 - Pro-Am Race 1300 local (1100 UTC)
Saturday December 10 - V&A Waterfront In-Port Race 1500 local (1300 UTC)
Sunday December 11 - Leg 2 start to Abu Dhabi 1500 local (1300 UTC)
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Editors' Notes: The Volvo Ocean Race