ALICANTE, SPAIN // A radio call came from the Mediterranean Sea yesterday at the uh-oh hour of 2.16am, only it entailed no despair.
The race control staff at the Alicante shoreside fielded it from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, then confirmed that Azzam had re-entered the Volvo Ocean Race at the spot where it suspended racing four nights prior when a meaty wave threw it down into a shocking double-breakage of the mast.
"Just like falling off a horse, it takes time to regain your confidence," the skipper Ian Walker wrote from sea, "but you simply have to get back on it as soon as you can."
For the 11-man crew, "getting back on" came roughly 103 hours after the unthinkable left everyone gutted. It meant a rapid eight hours after edging from the Alicante base camp toward the sunset at 5.45pm here on Wednesday, with the 6ft 4ins water hero Wade Morgan working partway up the newly installed back-up mast. And it came during a night when the exhausted shore crew, still in Alicante after all these days, cautiously hoped that Azzam would navigate the 6,500-nautical-mile route to Cape Town, South Africa, even as new-found trouble could have forced a Leg 1 retirement and a demoralising shipping.
That fate befell Team Sanya, who announced they would transfer their stricken boat by truck from the Spanish coastal town of Motril to the commercial port at Gibraltar, where a ship will haul her to Cape Town for repairs. With Team Sanya retired from Leg 1 with a garish gash in the hull, Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya had spent four days lodged at the table base with no numbers to report and with the violent seas of the first night doling the Team Sanya bowman Andy Meiklejohn a broken ankle that will cost him 12 sailing weeks.
With Abu Dhabi citing their relative luck, the race control update at 1.15am yesterday showed the French entry Groupama 4 fattening their lead through a contrarian strategy of sliding east of the Canary Islands and hugging the African west coast. Trailing were three boats mining the traditional lurch out into the Atlantic Ocean for stouter winds, with the Spanish entry Telefonica 139.9 nautical miles behind, the American Puma Mar Mostro 146.6 behind, and the Spanish/New Zealand combination Camper 235.6 behind.
From there, the chart and map showed Abu Dhabi 855 miles behind and hugging the Spanish coast en route to the ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar. Azzam moved at 9.3 knots - slower, of course, than the ocean-merry rivals curling toward the desired downwind sailing.
While the westward three had battled chop, the Mar Mostro media crew member Amory Ross wrote on Wednesday: "We've gone over 24 hours without tacking, and I cannot begin to tell you how nice that's been. Without a doubt, going in a straight line on these boats makes life exponentially easier. You're in the same bunk, your boots are where you left them and there's no stacking to do at all."
Along with their satisfaction at resumption, though, Walker and crew did keep concerns ranging from confidence to spareness to the question of how aggressively to sail a leg that the watch leader Craig Satterthwaite referred to as "delivery" in his poignant comment, "None of is here because we want to deal with delivery … We came here because we want to go racing."
Of the confidence, Walker wrote in the night: "I wish I could say we were now racing with clear minds but we are not." Of the new mast, he wrote: "It is not normal practice to step a new mast and set off in the dark and straight offshore. New masts can sometimes take days to tune up but we don't have that time. We also don't have the safety of a spare mast waiting for us if anything goes wrong. The stakes are now very high and we must sail accordingly."
By sailing to Cape Town, Abu Dhabi would grab 10 leg points from the first leg of the nine-leg race. If the standings from Thursday were to hold, Abu Dhabi would have 16 points, six from winning the Alicante In-Port Race of October 29. Groupama 4 would lead with 32 (two from the In-Port, 30 from the leg), Telefonica would follow with 26 (one and 25), Mar Mostro would have 25 (five, 20), Camper would have 19 (four, 15) and Team Sanya three (three, zero).