ABU DHABI // The Volvo Ocean Race returns to competitive action today with the sailors hoping the remainder of the round-the-world challenge will be plain sailing.
In a sense the race that began last October 29 has not yet begun in earnest. Fragmentation has reigned. Four of 12 possible legs among six boats have ended in retirements.
Two crews have made unexpected stays on islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Tristan da Cunha) and the Indian (Madagascar). Half the boats have halted with mast or rigging heartbreaks.
So scattered has been the fleet that sailors have had scant chance to make deductions about each other's boats in action.
"I think at this point we're just looking forward to getting into a rhythm," said Ken Read, the Puma skipper, who spent time on Tristan da Cunha during Leg 1. "It just seems like the whole race is just disjointed right now ...
"I'm really looking forward to getting this [chaos] all over with and starting in a rhythm again. And it becoming the Volvo Ocean Race again."
Another chance to create a Volvo Ocean Race begins today with an unprecedented buffet line of contention offering very real points.
First, the boats will vie this afternoon in the Etihad Airways In-Port Race in Abu Dhabi, one of 10 in-port races that reward nimble manoeuvres and make the sleek 70-foot yachts visible for spectators. Five of the six boats will participate, with Team Sanya absent with faulty rigging. The winner will take six points.
Then the boats will sprint to Sharjah tomorrow. This will initiate Leg 3, will reward six points to the winner and will take the boats to a ship that will take them to a secret port for the continuation of the leg toward Sanya, China, a fracturing of the leg because of concern about piracy threats.
This multifaceted churn begins with the Spanish entry Telefonica leading on 66 points, the Spanish-Kiwi contender Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand second with 59, France's Groupama third on 42, America's Puma fourth at 28, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fifth with 19 and the Chinese entry Team Sanya on four points after retirement from both ocean legs.
"I think for us our goal at the start of the race, we said we wanted to get into the top three, and we're fifth so we've got some work to do," said Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper, adding: "We've got every reason to believe we can do that."
At a preview news conference yesterday, Walker said: "We've just got to keep chipping away. It's tough. There's no weak boat in this race. It's not like past races where you know there were one, two, three, four boats you could beat if you could just finish without breaking anything."
Abu Dhabi, Puma and Sanya have broken considerable things thus far, fuelling disjointedness.
Chris Nicholson, the Camper skipper, reckons it shows "how hard the boats are pushed and just how on edge they can be."
Mike Sanderson, the Sanya skipper, winner of the 2005/06 race, yearned to finish Leg 3, with pressure from sponsors such that with another breakdown: "I think I'll be swimming ashore wherever we go, and hiding."
In general, the Volvo Ocean Race is not supposed to be about swimming.