x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Azzam's race for answers begins

The Azzam shore team and sailing crew are in a race not just to fix the boat but to also find out what caused her mast to break in the first place. They don't want it to happen again.

Azzam's spare mast, which was on its way to storage in the Netherlands, was turned around at the Spain border and directed back to Alicante.
Azzam's spare mast, which was on its way to storage in the Netherlands, was turned around at the Spain border and directed back to Alicante.

ALICANTE, SPAIN // As Azzam spent Monday afternoon hovering above the base camp, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing eyed a re-departure into the Volvo Ocean Race Wednesday evening, even as the intricacy of high-tech yachts makes forecasts inexact.

By plan, several team members said, the boat would wear its spare mast Tuesday, followed by fine-tuning, a test sail Wednesday morning and later re-entry into the Mediterranean Sea, where Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing suspended sailing last Saturday night five hours after the start when its mast snapped into three shards.

If all goes well, it could re-enter the race Thursday from the point of stoppage near Cartagena, Spain, said Jamie Boag, team director.

In the helpfully warmer weather that Monday brought, shore crew members fixed eight stanchions and repaired hull holes.

"We got off really lightly with the hull," said Mike Danks, the shore team's technical manager.

"It could have been a hundred times worse. There could have been holes down the whole side of the boat."

While shore crew and sailors worked on both the severed mast and the imported spare - "We put months and months into this rig, and now it's in three pieces," veteran sailor Craig Satterthwaite said - the mood had upgraded from Sunday even as four rivals hit the Atlantic Ocean.

A technical explanation for the breakage seemed near, and team leaders had found their way to hopeful language.

The "forensic science" work, Boag's term, is "a crucial process," skipper Ian Walker said, for confidence

If doubtful of cause, bowman Wade Morgan said, "Our confidence would be so low for the rest of the race, we just would never push it ... We've got another 39,000 miles to go.

"We want to know."

The recent past showed in a computer screen teeming with numbers showing Azzam's performance during every second of the Saturday sail - with wild variations at breakage - while the watch leader, Satterthwaite, worked at the end of a mast chunk and said: "You work just as hard and smart as you can, and try not to make a mistake, you know? Just make sure we don't make an error that's going to cost us again."

For one thing, Team Sanya's discontinuation (the China boat pulled out of the first leg with a hull breach) is worse because it involves the boat itself as, Danks said, "You can't just have a spare boat."

Azzam could reach Cape Town fifth for 10 points and relative viability.

"Everyone's going to have a fifth in this race at some point," Walker said.

"The fleet's too competitive for that not to happen."

He cited the galvanisation: "It's funny, you always have individuals who you don't see eye-to-eye with on a team, and it's quite interesting to see those individuals kicking in to help each other out."

Azzam's most experienced sailor, Satterthwaite, cautioned that the quality of rivals steepened the inconvenience and rued the lonely slog to Cape Town.

"None of us is are here because we want to deal with delivery," he said.

"We are here because we want to go racing. A lot of times you're racing by yourself, but you know there are other boats there.

"This time we're just trying to get it there.

"The key is not to get too bunched about it. If you get too bunched about it, it'll just eat you away."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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