Volvo Ocean Race: A Race Against The Clock for Team Abu Dhabi

Photo by Paul Todd / Volvo Ocean Race

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are hoping to have rejoined the race by Thursday morning at the latest, and skipper Ian Walker says the combined shore crew and sailing team will be working all night as they battle to get their new mast rigged as quickly as possible.

With the entire team working flat out to repair minor hull damage and rig the new mast, Walker admits to feeling slightly redundant.

“We have a fantastic team and I feel like a spare part at the moment. I think I should have learned more about rigging as a nipper. I can’t do much more than make cups of tea and go round and check with people and encourage them to get it all done quick.”

Despite the fact that every hour ashore means extra distance sailed by four boats still racing, Walker appeared pragmatic about the dismasting which forced Abu Dhabi return to suspend racing just hours after the start of the first leg to Cape Town.

“We could have sailed to Cape Town without any gear failure and just made a tactical mistake and finished fifth. We don’t want to give away any points at any stage with such stiff competition, but it’s not going to cripple us.

“I don’t think anyone is expecting us to launch out of here and take three or four days off the other guys. Having said that the weather is a funny thing and we have seen it before in other races where people stop or start late and actually benefit from the weather. Right now the weather is not looking particularly kind for us so we will just do what we always do and get there as quick as we can.”

Under the rules, Abu Dhabi will be able to motor to the spot where they suspended racing, but Walker said they were hopeful of being able to do some testing of their new mast.

“Hopefully there will be some wind and we will be able to sail. This is a brand new mast and we have a balancing act between getting out of here and doing enough due diligence and checked stuff so that we don’t encounter further problems.”

Walker says that there have been plenty of logistical knock on effects from the dismasting to deal with.

“We are now using all our spares, so we won’t have any spares and we will have to get stuff manufactured. Stuff is in the wrong containers. Plus all the shore guys who would now have been having time off are here working double overtime. Logistically it’s a very big challenge, but everybody is very motivated to make it all happen.”

Out in the Atlantic, after being slammed around for that first 24 hours by winds up to 80 kph, the boats still racing have been forced to go looking for wind to the west – a search that was proving tricky at 1300 UTC on Monday.

“The next few days will be a big mess,” Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias said by Inmarsat satellite phone from the boat. “The winds are sure to be light, there are no trade winds and it will be very painful to reach the Doldrums.

Ken Read, skipper on PUMA’s Mar Mostro, echoed that feeling: “There are no real trade winds out here so we are going to most likely look elsewhere for wind in order to get south.”

Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez tried to look on the bright side.

“There’s very little breeze and we are trying to fill the sails but with only momentary success,” he said. “The good thing is that we have all been able to sleep a bit and to eat well. We are starting to work up a routine according to the watches and to eat at night. All good down here and everyone’s in a good mood.”

After looking like the best they could hope for from Leg 1 would be five points for sixth place, Abu Dhabi are now gunning for 10 points for fifth, given that Sanya’s best hope is to ship their damaged boat to Cape Town in time for Leg 2.

If they are fortunate with the weather in the Mediterranean and pick up stronger winds in the Atlantic, they may even get closer to their rivals than they thought possible when they headed back towards Alicante on Saturday.