[VIDEO] Loading Over, VO70s Head to Abu Dhabi

A ship laden with the priceless cargo of five Volvo Open 70s is heading for the northern Emirates in the latest stage of the Volvo Ocean Race’s anti-piracy plan after a nerve-wracking operation to load the 15-tonne boats went perfectly.

Sailors, shore crews and race organisers worked round the clock and completed the risky task when Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, the fifth and final boat to arrive at the undisclosed safe haven in the Indian Ocean, was the last to be inched into a cradle on board the ship.

For many of the crews and shore teams it was the end of two full days without sleep with work starting the moment Team Telefónica won the first stage of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi by edging CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in a thrilling run to the finish line on Monday.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG took third place ahead of Groupama sailing team and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the safe haven port finish, which is being kept secret because of the threat of piracy.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet, minus Team Sanya who are repairing their yacht in Madagascar after sustaining rig damage in the leg from Cape Town, was then lifted 40 foot in the air, one by one with a crane in a pain-staking operation that took almost eight hours.

Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez had highlighted the risks involved after completing victory in the leg’s first stage. “The boats are built to be in the water, not in the air,’’ he said. “Operations to load and unload a boat are tricky, particularly with these super-fragile boats and it does scare me a bit. However, the guys in the team are really good at this and we have absolute confidence in them.”

At the completion of the loading, race director Jack Lloyd compared notes with the shore team leaders and said: “That was one long day.”

Lloyd paid tribute to the stevedores and loading master who oversaw the operation. “They were magnificent, so professional. The smallest slip could have caused huge damage to a boat.”

Teams will face the same exercise again for Leg 3, with the loading and unloading making for a total of 20 manoeuvres and a nervous time for Lloyd. But, he remains adamant that the toughest part of the loading operation was now behind them.

“Taking them off the ship will be much easier and now that we’ve done it five times, so should loading them again for leg two.”

Team Telefónica technical director Horacio Carabelli, whose boat was the first to be loaded, said good planning had been the secret of success.

“It was co-ordinated before with the shipping company, how the boat must be loaded and everything,” he said. “In the end it was quite straightforward.”

The ship will now travel to a location off the Sharjah coast, where it is expected to arrive within a week.

The boats will then be unloaded and the teams will begin the second stage of Leg 2 with a short sprint into Abu Dhabi.