ALICANTE, SPAIN // While a few technical snags left Azzam in her cradle, and up in the air, and awaiting installation of her back-up mast as of yesterday evening, some intrigue gripped her four rivals in the Atlantic Ocean, where the violent winds had blown away.
"They're all going very slowly," Jamie Boag, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team director, said from the still-toiling base camp beside Alicante Bay. "In fact, at one point last night, I thought we were catching them. Then I woke up."
Back where it all started, the 11-man Abu Dhabi crew was to hold an evening meeting to hear the sailors' viewpoints after three days of work on the mast set to replace the one that snapped into three pieces last Saturday night, on the Mediterranean Sea, during the first night of the round-the-world, 39,270-mile Volvo Ocean Race.
The crucial search for the cause of the breakage seemed ever closer to fruition, as Boag said: "We've got a good theory."
He and skipper Ian Walker and technicians wanted to test that theory, however, such that Boag estimated that certainty might take "a week's time".
One thorn in that process has been the unlikelihood of what did happen. "Put it this way," Walker said. "Theoretically, it couldn't have happened."
In the meantime, repaired sails had arrived from a loft in Valencia an hour away, and sailors and Shore Team workers continued to tend to Azzam, with the fitting of her new rig - and her ensuing return to the water - slated very tentatively for this morning.
"Busy, busy, busy," said Adil Khalid, the Emirati sailor, while an expiring visa forced a return to Abu Dhabi for the reserve Emirati sailor Butti Al Muhairi, whose popular diligence is so familiar among the sailors that bowman Wade Morgan said having to return left Al Muhairi "almost in tears".
Once Azzam re-enters the water, next will come intensive fine-tuning, a test sail and, as for a departure back toward the race, Boag said: "Conservatively, it would be Thursday."
He said "geeky stuff" remained, and that the "jury's still out, but I think we're pretty close".
If starting last Sunday on a one-to-10 scale of tasks once the then-dilapidated Azzam returned to port by motor through the night, the team has reached roughly level seven, Boag said.
As he spoke, the five rivals had reached various points of dissatisfaction, all benign except Team Sanya, which officially retired from Leg 1 with hull damage and a steep set of obstacles.
As skipper Mike Sanderson, the winner of the 2005/06 race, outlined to Volvo Ocean Race control, the team must get the boat to Cape Town somehow, build a new section of the boat and fit that new section into the old boat.
"The piece of boat that we are going to chop out and replace is five metres long by three metres wide by one metre high," he said on the Volvo website.
"That's the same size as a reasonable-sized powerboat that you could chuck a 100-horsepower onboard and go out for a day's fishing."
And as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing worked toward sailing the leg and claiming the 10 points of fifth place, other rivals found calm.
"After finally getting sorted onboard in the violent conditions," media crew member Amory Ross wrote from Puma's Mar Mostro, "the wind has completely died and left us drifting out here."
Winds would return by the wee hours of yesterday as there came a curious strategic development. Groupama, the French first-time entry with Franck Cammas, the renowned skipper, in his first Volvo Ocean Race, opted to buck traditional strategy and hug the Moroccan coast, while the other three chose the more conventional fan into the ocean toward Brazil for the downwind ride Walker had so anticipated aboard Azzam.
"A more traditional Volvo racer would have stuck with the fleet," Boag said, noting that Cammas had chosen "the weather" rather than the conventional.
Either Groupama or the other three, Boag said, would wind up more correct: "The chances of them coming back together again at the same point are pretty remote."