AUCKLAND, New Zealand // Abu Dhabi's faltering campaign in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race endured another setback yesterday when skipper Ian Walker was forced to suspend racing six hours into the fifth leg with major equipment failure.
A bulkhead for a key sail broke off its mounting after the fifth-placed boat crashed into a huge wave while sailing out towards the Southern Ocean. The boat returned to Auckland for repairs as the rest of the fleet navigated towards stormy conditions having only left the New Zealand port earlier on Sunday to start the leg.
They arrived back in Auckland at 11.30pm (2.30pm in the UAE) yesterday with a breakage in the structure that keeps the crucial J4 sail in place. Without it, they could not cope with the violent conditions that await the six teams on the race through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.
It was Abu Dhabi's second structural problem in the race with their mast having broken on Leg 1 less than 24 hours after they left Alicante, Spain at the start of the race on November 5.
This time it should be easier to repair the damage, with the team eyeing a return to the water within 48 hours.
"We could not have competed with the boat as it is so we took the decision to come back," Wade Morgan, the Abu Dhabi crew member, said. "It's OK. The guys should be able to repair it soon and get us on our way."
Abu Dhabi are fifth overall and need leg victories to get back in the running for overall honours in the race, which finishes in Galway, Ireland in July.
"The fleet aren't getting away that fast," Walker said. "They're heading upwind and they're going to get a bit of a pounding tonight. It's not disastrous. Looking 36 hours ahead there are probably faster conditions for getting out of here. It all depends on the movement of the high pressure. They might have to sail a longer distance round it than us. "A bit like when we broke our mast, I'm glad this happened 40 miles from being able to come back and get help and get it fixed, rather than being 400 miles out to sea."