x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Weather woes for Volvo Ocean Race in China

Leg 4 to be split into stages due to fears over stormy conditions.

Stormy weather has troubled organisers in Sanya, China
Stormy weather has troubled organisers in Sanya, China

SANYA, CHINA // With two previous Volvo Ocean Race legs already severed into stages because of piracy worries, a third will break into stages because of meteorology worries.

Leg 4 to Auckland, New Zealand, will start as planned, but the six yachts will perform an inshore route before spending another night in Sanya, awaiting the clearance of un-sailable conditions in the Strait of Luzon near the Philippines.

"It could be that we restart in the hours of darkness on Monday morning," race director Jack Lloyd said.

"Our delay will not be more than 24 hours," race CEO Knut Frostad said.

Upon the restart, they will depart in a staggered procession based upon the order of the inshore finish.

The weather forecast for the South China Sea and Strait of Luzon has concerned race officials for days, with northeasterly monsoon winds meeting tropical-depression conditions to create 40-knot winds and eight-metre waves. That scenario has combined with the boat carnage from Leg 4 in the 2008/09 race to wreak "a very, very difficult decision for us," as Frostad put it.

In that leg from Singapore to Qingdao, six of the seven boats incurred damage, the one that did not suffered two injuries and eight working sailors, three withdrew and Frostad deemed the conditions the worst in the then-36-year race history.

"It was just full-blown survival just to keep them in one piece, and sure enough, three of the seven nearly sank," said Ken Read, the Puma skipper then and now. "Now it's supposed to be windier than in the last race. It's not a 'man-up' situation, it's a case of making sure the boats get there for the good of the race."

While skippers did have input, Frostad claimed they did not pressure the decision. Referring to meteorologists for both race headquarters and the teams, Frostad said, "They all believe we have conditions which will be dangerous up to 12 to 18 hours after the leg start, with waves that can break boats if you sail into them."

Said Iker Martinez, the skipper of front-running Telefonica: "We have to trust those forecasts."

cculpepper@thenational.ae