Last updated: 11 November, 2011

Abu Dhabi retires from Volvo race first leg

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet was reduced to four boats on Friday when Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing became the second team forced to pull out of the first leg because of the violent Mediterranean weather on the first night.

The Emirati team’s yacht Azzam, which now plans to rejoin the race for leg two in South Africa, broke her mast in three places inside the first six hours of the race as she crashed into a huge wave.

The team managed to get a replacement mast fitted and the boat returned to the water on Wednesday but after two nights at sea they decided to give up the leg to give themselves more time in Cape Town to fine-tune the equipment.

“We need time to make modifications to our rigging system in Cape Town and the only way we can gain that time is to travel to Cape Town by ship,” explained skipper Ian Walker from the boat.

“This has been one of the hardest decisions of my life to make but I have to consider not only the safety of the crew but the long term interests of the project.”

The British double Olympic silver medallist added: “This is only the first leg of a long race and with this decision and a lot of hard work we can be race ready for leg two.

“I am particularly sad as this is my favourite leg of the race and the whole crew had been looking forward so much to it. I wish all the teams left in the leg fair winds and we will be there to greet them in Cape Town.”

Sanya, the first sole Chinese entry in the event’s history, was forced to retire from the first leg on Sunday after suffering hull damage. They will also ship their boat to South Africa in time for the second leg.

The race is already living up to its reputation as the toughest offshore event in the sport which has claimed five lives since it was first held as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973. It is staged over 45,000 miles and finishes in Galway, Ireland next July.

The fact that the race only started with a streamlined fleet of six means there are just four teams scrapping it out in the Atlantic.

Groupama, the first French team to enter the Volvo Ocean Race in 18 years, have a massive lead of 250 miles over the other three having chosen a route much closer to the west African coast.

Telefonica of Spain were in second, ahead of U.S.-based Puma and Camper, the Spanish/New Zealand entry.