x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Treacherous conditions in China test resolve of Abu Dhabi team

'Imagine trying to stand on a mechanical bull while it's going nuts,' says a member of the Abu Dhai Ocean Racing team in an attempt to describe conditions on board Azzam.

Conditions on board Azzam are hazardous.
Conditions on board Azzam are hazardous.

Sailing in the South China Sea was like “trying to stand on that mechanical bull” yesterday as the six Volvo Ocean Race teams pushed eastward through tough conditions.

“Imagine riding a mechanical bull – it’s difficult for a variety of reasons. It spins around unpredictable, it moves up and down, side to side and manages to heel over when you least expect it,” said Nick Dana, the media crew member aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s boat Azzam.

“Now imagine trying to stand on that mechanical bull while it’s going nuts. When you go forward of the dagger boards on a Volvo Open 70, above or below deck, this is what you have to look forward to.”

Although the wind speed has dropped to around 17 knots, huge waves still remained from the monsoon that caused race organisers to delay the Leg 4 start by 18 hours.

With just 35 nautical miles separating the entire fleet yesterday, life at the front of the pack was no different to life at the back.

“This is like sailing in a washing machine without the soap suds unfortunately,” said Tony Rae, the helmsman on Camper.

“A mix of current, wind and the fact we are right on top of where the ocean floor goes from 600 metres to only 200 metres, all combined to make a pretty messy confused ride. Not what I would call smooth sailing.”

From the back of the fleet, Puma Ocean Racing’s Amory Ross reported similarly challenging conditions.

“Waves seem to come from all directions and there’s nothing to do but make sure you’re hanging on because you never see half of them,” he said.

The last time the fleet sailed through a similar area in the South China Sea in 2008-09 three boats suffered serious structural damage that almost knocked them out of the race.