CAPE TOWN // Somehow, after all the chaos, the six sailboats in the Volvo Ocean Race have spent recent days doing something rather odd.
They have done so in varying stages of preparedness, duress and worry, but they have streamed out into Table Bay, as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam did yesterday toward a practice race under a dominant midday sun.
As all the entries point toward the in-port race tomorrow and the departure for Leg 2 toward Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Jamie Boag, the Abu Dhabi team director, sat on the base-camp veranda, watched Azzam chug out toward strong winds and said: "Kind of, I guess, a funny time."
It's funny - "funny" strange, not "funny" ha-ha - in at least a few ways. For one, when Abu Dhabi finally went sailing again on Tuesday, some of the shore crew members found themselves weirdly idle, Azzam having suspended sailing for so long since its mast broke on the evening of November 5 and its team retired from Leg 1 on the day of November 11.
For another, there is a lingering sense of mystery even as Abu Dhabi has come out unscathed from what Ian Walker, the skipper, likened to "the woods", a week of rigging-curing and mast-stepping.
Boag reckoned that in readying the intricate mast that began as the backup but has become the main, the team passed about four or five key points.
"A lot of things could have gone wrong for us," he said. "None of those things has happened so far."
For another still, there is the freneticism of two of the other boats, Team Sanya and Puma.
The former has undergone its remarkable hull repair and has resumed at least somewhat, with the skipper and 2005/06 Volvo winner Mike Sanderson noting "a sense of nervousness."
The latter with its broken mast and unbroken crew arrived finally around Tuesday midnight on a ship from the South Atlantic island Tristan da Cunha.
A cast of greeters wore T-shirts reading: "The Show Mast Go On". Ken Read, the skipper, called the whole thing "just shy of a miracle, seeing we were well over two thousand kilometres from Cape Town with no mast, little diesel and limited food about 17 days ago."
The backup mast went from Rhode Island to New York to Luxembourg to Amsterdam to Johannesburg to Cape Town.
There it sailed yesterday, visible from shore above the buildings of Cape Town's V & A Waterfront, with Amory Ross, the media crew member, having summarised the feelings of fully half the sailors signed on to this race. "At this point, we just want to go sailing," he wrote before the ship arrived. "We all want to go back to doing our jobs. The sailors want to talk trim, analyse polars and dissect scheds.
"I want to document racing, not drama."
The racing will begin in serious knots tomorrow, as does the unscrambling of Leg 1 puzzles.
The Spanish entry Telefonica stands on 31 points, then the Spain-New Zealand combination Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (29), France's Groupama (22) and the Leg 1 retirees Abu Dhabi (six), Puma (five) and Sanya (three).
Boag said Abu Dhabi will employ the first-string 11 sailors, with the reserve Emirati sailor Butti Al Muhairi on board in an observing role.
They will set out from the jumbled configuration of Cape Town, which differs from other stopovers both in the presence of iconic scenery (Table Mountain) and entries scattered through the harbour rather than side by side.
On one jetty parks Azzam with its Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing flags flapping in the breeze.
Off to the left, across the water and under a bridge but still visible from Azzam, you find Telefonica and Camper, side by side.
Way off to the right, across several swatches of water and hidden behind buildings, Groupama and Sanya share one jetty while Puma's Mar Mostro occupies another behind that.
When all emerge tomorrow, Walker and crew will resume their whiplash ride, having won the in-port race on October 29 in Alicante, Spain, before the nadir only seven nights later.
"I don't think any of us want it to be as light as it was in Alicante" wind-wise, Boag said, but the 35 knots of some forecasts could present fresh issues.
As the Cape Town stopover lacks the week between in-port and leg departure, shore crews could go sleepless.
"It's bam-bam-bam, so if you break something you could be working all night Friday, all night Saturday," Boag said.
During the week, it mattered that the work had included sailing. "Great to go sailing," Boag said, "and great to know we haven't unearthed anything, any further problems."
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