Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are putting a major repair operation into effect after their racing yacht Azzam suffered a broken mast in rough weather today, forcing her to suspend racing just over six hours into Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.
'We have no injuries and have retrieved or secured all equipment'
A spare mast is being rushed to the Spanish port of Alicante where Azzam and the rest of the six-strong fleet had begun the first offshore leg of the 39,000-nautical mile race.
British skipper Ian Walker said the crew was unhurt and the team were now motoring back to Alicante. The boat remains in the race, the toughest offshore event in sailing which will not finish until July 2012 in Galway, Ireland. Azzam won the first in-port race of the event in Alicante last Saturday and leads the standings with six points. The winner of the first leg will reap 30 points.
At 1915 UTC/GMT, Abu Dhabi told race management Azzam had suspended racing after the mast was broken. The boat was 30 nautical miles south of Cartagena on the Spanish coast.
Walker later reported at 2053 UTC/GMT: 'Our situation is now stable. We are motoring towards flatter water at Cabo de Palos where we hope to lift the top section of the mast aboard.
'We have no injuries and have retrieved or secured all equipment. Our mast broke into three pieces when landing off a big wave in 30+ knots of wind. We were sailing under a J4 and two reefs. We do not as yet know the cause.
'Our intention is to return to Alicante under motor to repair any damage and step our spare mast.'
Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad said he felt 'desperately sorry' for twice-Olympic silver medallist Walker and his team.
'The team are extremely professional and I know they will do all they can to get Azzam back in the race as quickly and safely as possible,' he said.
Team media crew member Nick Dana told how crew member Wade Morgan had made a courageous attempt in waves of up to 3.5 metres to rescue the rig.
'The boat's mainsail and J4 were retrieved successfully along with various other parts that we will hope to re-use.
'We put a man in the water (Morgan) to cut away the top of the mainsail at the headboard car. Wade was able to make several attempts at cutting. However, a very violent sea state made it extremely dangerous for him to remain in the water.
'The crew retrieved him promptly and were able to get the mainsail off the lock - allowing it to slide down the rig and be pulled from the water.
'The mast from the first spreader up is now secured to the port side of the boat. About three or four metres protrude from behind the boat. A spider web of lines is keeping the operation intact. The crew are deeply disappointed.'
Cartagena search and rescue organisation have been informed and are on standby to assist if necessary.
Volvo Ocean Race control is in constant contact with the team while establishing the full extent of the damage so that the crew are given full support to enable them to deal with the situation