Team Puma survive brush with tree in the Volvo Ocean Race

Both Team Puma and Azzam have endured unpredictable drama during Leg 3 of the race.

Brad Jackson of Team Puma hard at work as the team battle for the lead during Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
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Team Puma survived a collision with a tree trunk to move into a three-way battle for the lead yesterday as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet picked a precarious route through the Malacca Strait.

With over 1,500 nautical miles (2,800km) sailed in the second stage of Leg 3 from the Maldives to Sanya in China, just a handful of boat lengths separated overall leaders Telefonica of Spain, the French challengers Groupama and Puma, the American team.

All three were in sight of each other yesterday, as they tried to steer a path through the hundreds of commercial ships and fishing boats in the narrow Strait, as well as pockets of floating debris.

Puma have had the biggest scare so far after a shuddering collision left them with damage to part of the boat but crucially left the rudder intact.

"There's ships everywhere, debris everywhere, as we found when we hit a tree," Ken Read, the Puma skipper, reported.

"There was this bang and we crunched up a dagger board, taking a chunk out. It probably saved us, though, because the tree could have wiped out the rudder."

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, who are Telefonica's closest challengers overall in the 39,000nm round the world race, are stuck in the second group of boats after misjudging the breeze. They are around 18 miles behind along with Abu Dhabi.

Team Sanya are trailing way back in sixth with little hope of reaching their home port in anything other than last place.

Abu Dhabi's Azzam, meanwhile, picked up an unexpected passenger off the coast of Malaysia.

A bat decided the Volvo Open 70 looked like a comfortable place to spend a few hours of downtime and chose to rest on Azzam's big black mainsail.

"He joined us this morning, I think he got blown offshore," Ian Walker, the skipper, told yesterday.

"He basically attached himself to the mainsail and has survived a few tacks up there. He fell asleep on the reef point, and has been there for five or six hours."

Despite being locked in a duel with Camper, Walker said his team would take care of their visitor.

"I think he likes our black sails and Azzam's falcon," Walker said. "We will try to deliver him back towards shore tonight."

The leaders have around 200 miles to sail to get out of the Strait and head into a long closing stretch through the South China Sea to Sanya.

The fleet is expected to arrive in China between February 5 and 6.