x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Weather worry for Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker in Volvo Ocean Race

Azzam prepares for a possible repeat of Leg 1 fate – when extreme weather destroyed its mast – as the crew reaches South China Sea.

The Azzam crew expects a tough two days ahead.
The Azzam crew expects a tough two days ahead.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were on Wednesday steeling themselves to take on gale force winds and huge waves that could be more severe than the conditions that destroyed their original mast on the first night of the Volvo Ocean Race.

That breakage forced the race's first ever United Arab Emirates team out of Leg 1 and ultimately saw them ship their boat to Cape Town to re-join the race for the second leg with a brand new mast and supporting rigging.

Since then the crew, led by double British Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, have faced relatively benign conditions.

Now however, they are about to receive a two-day battering from 35-knot winds in the South China Sea on the final part of the second stage of Leg 3 into Sanya, China.

On Wednesday, Walker confessed to having concerns about how the new rig would stand up to its first real heavy weather test.

"I would be lying if I said I was not worried about our mast and rigging," he said in his latest report from the boat. "All the signs are that things should be OK.

"The big test will be when we go for the J4 heavy weather jib and 2 reefs for the first time in anger since stepping this spare mast."

In the last ocean race, winds topping 50 knots in this area forced the entire fleet to run for shelter and several boats, including Walker's Green Dragon, suffered major damage during the storm, which lasted for several days.

On Wednesday, as Abu Dhabi began to experience the first of the tough conditions ahead, Walker said he and his crew were preparing themselves to take on whatever the weather threw at them.

"As we head north the wind is lifting and increasing," he said. "For the first time all leg we are all now reaching for foul weather gear as the amount of water coming over the deck is increasing.

"Right now the wind is building fast and there is a feeling of anticipation about the 48 hours of strong wind ahead."

Puma Ocean Racing, meanwhile, took a huge risk on Wednesday by sailing more than 100 nautical miles to the east of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the hope of finding better winds.

Puma's Mar Mostro was some 115 miles behind Telefonica, the Leg 3 leaders.