x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sick at sea, but the Volvo Ocean race still goes on

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's assorted list of woes grew to include seasickness during Leg 4, of which they currently lie third, six nautical miles behind leaders Groupama. Audio interview

Paul Willcox stacks sails onboard Azzam during Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Paul Willcox stacks sails onboard Azzam during Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

SANYA, China // Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's assorted list of woes grew yesterday to include seasickness.

"Several people have been sick already, and the rest keep swallowing," Nick Dana, the media crew member wrote from the South China Sea.

Ian Walker, the skipper, reported "a hint of seasickness for the first time ever," and told the Volvo Ocean Race website: "Fortunately, I have kept the freeze-dried chicken roast and mashed potato down so far, unlike a few others aboard."

"Down below," Dana wrote, "looks like a war zone."

Like their five rivals in the nine-month, 10-stopover sailing race, they had departed Sanya after dawn and ventured on Leg 4 toward the Strait of Luzon along the 5,220-nautical-mile path toward New Zealand.

That passage through the South China Sea figures to take three days and untold hassle amid the remnants of a ferocious weather system.

By last evening, the French boat Groupama led the fleet, with Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand second by a nautical-mile-and-change and Abu Dhabi third, six nautical miles behind Groupama.

The overall race leader Telefonica of Spain, unbeaten in the first three ocean legs, lurked another nautical mile behind Abu Dhabi, with the Chinese Team Sanya about five after that.

Puma, the American entry, remained 21 nautical miles off the lead after it became the last to leave port, 39 minutes after first-off Telefonica, because it hit a windless zone on Sunday during the 43-nautical-mile start stage, which race organisers devised to delay their exit because of the storm system.

One source said that in advance of that decision, two of the teams had stated their intention to withdraw altogether if they suffered considerable damage.

Wrote Abu Dhabi's Dana yesterday afternoon: "Needless to say it has become nearly impossible to do anything at this point on board.

"The airdrops we are experiencing off the backs of these sharp waves make it difficult to keep your feet below you, let alone with a sail or a steering wheel in your hands."

Hamish Hooper, the media crew member for Camper, which aims for one of its two home ports (the other being Spain), wrote: "At times you feel like a block of cheese being rubbed up against a cheese grater, slowly withering you away physically and mentally."

At least as forecast, the weather promised more vexation for Abu Dhabi, which has finished fifth in each of the two ocean legs it has raced and stands fifth overall, 58 points behind leaders Telefonica.

"Nobody is really looking forward to a week or two of upwind slog, especially in these waves," Walker said.

"But we will cross off the miles and wait for better sailing farther down the line."

As of last evening, they had just more than 5,000 to go before they reach Auckland.

cculpepper@thenational.ae