Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Damaged yacht forced to turn back

Teams leave Auckland at the start of the Volvo Ocean Race. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Teams leave Auckland at the start of the Volvo Ocean Race. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was late last night returning to Auckland after being damaged in heavy seas soon after the start of the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Race organisers said the bulkhead on the yacht was damaged by a huge wave.

"Only 50 nautical miles (92km) into the leg and given the close proximity to Auckland, where the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing shore team is still based, Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker decided returning to port to undertake repairs was the best course of action," a statement said.

The yacht was expected to rejoin the race within 48 hours.

Abu Dhabi media crew member Nick Dana said the crew was "absolutely gutted".

"After going off a fairly sized and steep wave, we have torn the J4 bulkhead clean out. We are now headed for Auckland and hopefully a quick turnaround.

The team is devastated but fully focused on the task in hand."

The incident virtually mirrors what happened to Abu Dhabi in the first leg to Cape Town, when Walker's crew had to turn back to Alicante six hours into the race after breaking their mast. They eventually withdrew from the leg.

Abu Dhabi missed the pro-am races in Auckland on Friday after finding a crack in the mast casing, but Walker was confident before leaving yesterday afternoon that all issues with the boat had been resolved.

Late last night Camper had a narrow lead over Puma as the Volvo fleet rounded the top of the Coromandel.

After an impressive start, in which they led the fleet around the inner-harbour course and out through the Rangitoto Channel, Mike Sanderson's Team Sanya had slipped back to third.

Overall leaders Team Telefonica were in fourth, , with Groupama bringing up the rear of the fleet - but with 12,420km of ocean racing ahead of them, no team was placing too much on the leaving positions.

The teams are heading straight for a real trial by the elements.

Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said he and his crew were bracing themselves for a rough first night as a well-developed low-pressure system to the northeast of Auckland was set to intensify as it moved towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean.

"It's not going to be pretty for the first 24 to 36 hours. We'll be going across a significant low-pressure system and it's going to be pretty rough."

Nicholson said that with the boat-breaking conditions in the Southern Ocean set to test the crew to their physical and mental limits, it would take a team with strong character to win the leg, and he sensed weaknesses in other teams.

"We're really solid but you can see other teams starting to fray at the edges. [Team morale] is an on-going point that we're very cautious of the whole way through.

"We don't get a break from each other - our living space is smaller than the size of a normal lounge and that's for 11 guys."

Meanwhile, stopover organisers were already looking "seriously" at getting the race back to Auckland.

But their hopes of having the race return for the 2014/15 edition may hinge on having a New Zealand entry in the race.

Volvo Ocean Race chief executive Knut Frostad dubbed Auckland the spiritual home of the round-the-world race, and said having a local entry was a key factor when considering stopover bids.

"When we make decisions, the prospect of having boats from a port is very important," said Frostad.

"In some places it might be impossible to achieve that, but in New Zealand it is very important to have a home team."

- NZ Herald

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