It was supposed to be Team New Zealand's leg. The gruelling 6700 nautical mile slog through the Southern Ocean to Brazil - which rewards seamanship and boat reliability - was a leg in which the Camper crew were confident they would excel.

And after some indifferent results over the first half of the round-the-world yacht race, it was important they did.

Having been dogged by tactical errors and speed problems over the first four stages, leg 5 presented an opportunity for the Kiwi boat to position themselves for a late charge for the overall crown, or at the very least restore some credibility to their campaign.

But over the weekend Camper became the latest victim of the harshest stretch of open ocean known to sailors.


The team damaged their bulkhead after coming crashing down off a wave as high as a "two-storey building". Leading at the time, Camper were forced to slow down considerably as the crew tried to do the repairs on the boat. But over the ensuing 48 hours the damage was compounded by the continuous onslaught of towering waves and wind gusts of up to 60 knots. Late Sunday night, the decision was made to alter their course to the Chilean Port of Puerto Montt, where they will undergo repairs.

From here the boat may be salvageable, but their campaign is not.

The breakdown could have barely occurred at a worse stage in the leg. When disaster struck they were 100 miles off Point Nemo, which is reckoned to be the farthest point on the globe from any other land mass.

It means a long, hazardous journey to Chile, with the estimated time of arrival April 1 to 3. The repair work is expected to take up to five days, meaning Camper won't resume racing until April 5 at the earliest, by which stage the rest of the fleet are expected to be finished.

While Camper skipper Chris Nicholson insists spirits on board remain high, the breakdown must be a devastating blow for the team whose fortunes had seemed to be improving. After winning the latest in-port race in Auckland and making a strong start to leg 5, Camper were finally showing the form that was expected of the New Zealand entry in the race.

Last week's news that overall race leaders Telefonica are facing the possibility of a hefty points penalty if found to have breached the sail limitation rule in leg 4 further boosted Camper's chances of getting themselves back in the race for overall honours.

Provided the four other boats still in the race to Itajai remain in one piece, Camper will finish in fifth place for the leg with only China's Team Sanya, who pulled out of the stage last week having been forced to turn back to New Zealand with structural damage, worse off.

That would see Team New Zealand pick up just 10 points, which would likely result in them taking a further slide down the overall standings, with Puma the big beneficiary.

With Camper's closest rivals having a significant speed advantage, there is little chance of New Zealand being able to run down the leaders over the remaining four legs following the Brazil stopover.

The good news is that they don't have to go searching in the remote and inhospitable Southern Ocean waters to find the black box for their campaign - that lies somewhere in the Team New Zealand design offices.