Yachting: Storm 'kick in guts' for Abu Dhabi

By Dana Johannsen

The crew of the Abu Dhabi. Photo / Natalie Slade
The crew of the Abu Dhabi. Photo / Natalie Slade

Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker says his team have been dealt a "meteorological kick in the guts" after potentially boat-breaking conditions in the Colville Channel forced them to delay their bid to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race.

After getting back on the water following a quick patch-up job to their damaged boat, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have been forced to shelter in the Hauraki Gulf to wait out a brewing storm.

They were on track to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race late yesterday, having left Auckland for a second time just before midday.

The crew limped back into port late on Sunday night after suffering structural damage to their bow in the heavy conditions. Their shore crew worked through the night carrying out repairs, and just 12 hours later the yacht headed back out to sea.

But on returning to the point inside Great Barrier Island where they suspended racing six hours into leg five, Walker and his crew made the call to seek shelter and wait for the horrendous weather conditions out in the South Pacific to ease.

"All we needed then was a break from the weather to get us back in the race, the other boats are only 200 miles away after all, but sadly we have exactly the opposite - the meteorological equivalent of a kick in the guts," Walker said in a blog.

"Right now we are trapped in the windy section of the tropical low with storm force winds between us and the lighter winds to the east.

"We need to exit the Colville Channel where the winds notoriously funnel along the Coromandel Range but the weather stations are reporting 50-knot average winds and gusts in the low 60s.

"This is more than enough wind to put our boat, sails and people in serious danger."

Walker said the crew was in a real dilemma - taking on the storm-force winds when they had little to gain or waiting for the winds to ease, losing more miles and time to their competitors?

"To set off when we are already a day behind the fleet and put ourselves out of the race would be foolish and yet to hove to and wait is the most frustrating thing on earth. Hopefully we can resume racing and get on our way as soon as possible."

A spokesman for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing said: "The conditions the team are facing at the moment are fearsome with winds as high as 60 knots, and it would be unsafe to sail into them."

This is another devastating blow for the team, who were already facing a crisis in morale.

Shortly before leaving the dock for the second time, Walker spoke of the difficult task facing his crew as they head into the Southern Ocean with a 24-hour handicap on the rest of the fleet.

"Nobody wants to cross the Southern Ocean a day behind all the other boats, so there's no doubt that is on people's minds.

"But on the other hand we've turned this around quickly and we're very grateful [to] the shore crew for that," said Walker.

The rest of the fleet were taking a battering in the South Pacific Ocean with average wind speeds of 30-40 knots.

Camper navigator Will Oxley said it had been a tough return to ocean racing.

Late last night Camper were in second place 9.1 nautical miles behind Telefonica, with Puma third 15.8 miles off the pace.

- NZ Herald

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