Azzam suspends racing from Volvo Ocean Race with broken mast

New mast set to arrive this evening but team set to wait between "two to four" days before they are ready to resume the race.

ALICANTE, SPAIN // After a shocking turn barely beyond the gaudy outset of the Volvo Ocean Race, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's celebrated yacht Azzam headed back to Alicante through the wee hours of Sunday morning with its splintered rig lashed to its side.

Audio slideshow: Broken mast forces Azzam to suspend racing

Skipper Ian Walker of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing talks about the crew's disappointment over the broken mast which forced them to return to Alicante five hours into the nine-month race.

The mast broke into three pieces when landing from a big wave only five hours beyond the official start of the nine-month, 39,270-nautical mile marathon, with navigator Jules Salter notifying Race Control at 7.15pm GMT (11.15pm UAE) that the crew had suspended racing.

Abu Dhabi's British skipper Ian Walker said the mast would have to replaced with a spare which had been headed by truck to storage in The Netherlands but was called back urgently after the setback.

"I'd be surprised if we could do it within three days," a weary Walker told reporters in Alicante. "But it's amazing what you can do with a strong will. I say three days, hopefully it's two... but maybe four."

Sanya became the second of the six teams to fall victim to the rough seas on Sunday. It suspended racing after its hull was damaged in winds of 43 knots and waves 33 feet high, the race's website said.

"The situation is very much under control, everyone is obviously disappointed but in good spirits as all are safe on board," organisers quoted Mike Sanderson, Sanya's skipper said, as telling race control.

Jamie Boag, the team manager of Azzam, said his crew were "gutted".

"I don't want to use a football cliche, but they're gutted. We've had such a great, great run with the boat since we started the programme, winning the Fastnet, winning the In-Port Race, first night at sea, all the boats within a mile of each other, all to play for. We're very confident in our design and you know, it's like being kicked in the stomach, I suppose."

The accident happened in disagreeable waters, yet not in anything Azzam had not handled during almost 10,000 miles of testing and preparation. It occurred some 30km south of Cartagena, Spain, in 30-knot winds and three-metre waves, when the boat was landing off a big wave. Wrote Walker: "We were sailing under a J4 and two reefs. We do not yet know the cause."

Nick Dana, the media crew member mandated with chronicling the nine-month journey, wrote that the crew had fallen "silent". He later wrote, "The crew are deeply disappointed".

In an attempt to cut away the top of the mainsail, the bowman and boat captain Wade Morgan took to the water, Dana wrote, making "several attempts at cutting. However a very violent sea state made it extremely dangerous for him to remain in the water. The crew retrieved him promptly and were able to get the mainsail off the lock, allowing it to slide down the rig and be pulled from the water."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had won the In-Port Race two Saturdays ago, securing the early first place with six points.

The nascent 6,500-mile Leg 1 to Cape Town was expected to require about 20 days, and will award 30 points to the winner from among the six boats, with 25 for second place on down to five for sixth place. "When you suspend racing," Frostad explained on the website, "that means that you are leaving but you actually can return racing as soon as you come back to the same position as where you suspended. And now they will be racing against time to fight to get the new rig in the boat, their spare mast, and get back in the water and back to that position and continue Leg 1 to Cape Town."

Frostad also found solace: "This is a long race. Nine months around the world is a very long race. And I think even though this is a tragic accident for the team at least it happens in the best possible place it could happen, because they can actually return here to Alicante where they have their team base set up, have their Shore Team, have the technicians.

"It's easy for us to get spare parts here. And they can get the best-possible support. I can only imagine if things like this had happened in the middle of the Atlantic, how much more difficult it is and how much more time you lose."


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