Minutes before the five-minute warning signal, the crew of Telefónica Blue, currently second in the overall standings and winner of the last two offshore legs, dropped their mainsail and skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED) turned his boat back towards Qingdao. He had informed the Race Committee that his team were suspending racing, which under the rules, must be for a minimum of two hours.
The boat was immediately hauled out of the water assess the damage caused when the boat went aground briefly, at a speed of six or seven knots. A crewman immediately went into the water, but was unable see clearly the extent of the problem and BEKKING made the decision to suspend racing. The boat could possibly need a full structural check, something which could take up to 24 hours.
"The biggest concern is a crack just above the bulb," said skipper BEKKING after a brief look at the keel. "All the paint has disappeared - something has moved from over there. We are going to take the bulb off and have a look. That crack shouldn't have been there. We want to make 100% sure because we aren't going to the quietest place. We have to do it the proper way."
Out on the race course, code zero sails were set and PUMA overhauled Green Dragon to take the lead as the three boats edged their way up the first two-mile stretch of the course in the very light and variable breeze towards the first rounding mark.
A small, but well-behaved flotilla of spectators gathered to watch the start under clear blue skies, keeping clear of the racing yachts so as not to impede their progress.
At first mark, PUMA had gained control and, with a man at the top of the mast searching for wind, rounded 53 seconds ahead of Green Dragon. Ericsson 4, sailing with the same crew that started the race in Alicante, was in third place, seven seconds behind.
At the second mark, it was PUMA from Ericsson 4 and Green Dragon as the skyline of Qingdao faded into the distance and the crews settled down to face up to 40 days at sea as they race around the bottom of the world and across one of the most desolate oceans on earth.
Meanwhile, yet to complete leg four from Singapore, is the fifth contender for leg five, Ericsson 3. The team has just 21nm to run to the leg four finish line in Qingdao in order to collect four more points. The team resumed racing in leg four on Wednesday having been forced to stop in Taiwan to repair damage to their boat in a leg which saw two other boats failing to finish.
The race is now on for Telefónica Blue to assess and fix their problem and for Ericsson 3 to re-provision the boat and start leg five as quickly as possible. Ericsson 3 is expected to cross the finish in approximately two hours time.
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL (BRA), 49 points
2. Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED), 42 points
3. PUMA, skipper Ken READ (USA), 41 points
4. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER (GBR), 30 points
5. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 24 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP), 21 points
7. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP), 12 points
8. Team Russia, skipper Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT), 10.5 points
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