Volvo Ocean Race- Abu Dhabi hold media conference in Alicante

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s yacht Azzam, skippered by Britain’s Ian Walker, returns to Alicante, Spain after the mast broke in rough weather on the first day of racing on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

Ian Walker, the skipper of Abu Dhabi, the Volvo 70 dismasted in the the opening hours of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race has just appeared in a media conference in Alicante to update on their situation with their broken spar, which is in three pieces.

Tweets off the boat, prior to the media conference indicated they were looking to get back into the race as quickly as possible, but gave no indication of the cause of the dismasting.

Walker said that the mast fell down at around 7.15pm, in not particularly extreme conditions. 'The wind was averaging 30kts, gusts to 35 and had dropped to 26kts.,' he said. They decided to do a change to the J4 - and did a bareheaded change.

'The change went perfectly - we had practiced it before.

'After the change we didn't initially go too fast. Justin Slattery was to leeward setting up sheets.

'We just came off a big wave - my feet came off the ground - the mast just keep going and fell to leeward.

'The boat came upright very quickly as it does when the load comes off.

'We numbered off as we do for a safety check.

'Before we turned the engine own we notified Race Control that we ere suspending racing.'

'We were almost were run into by Team Sanya as we were sitting there in the water with no lights and they passed us by 50 metres away.'

Walker says they need to understand what caused the failure before moving further. Abu Dhabi's spare mast was on a truck in Madrid, along with Telefonica's spare, heading for DHL in Holland to be ready to be flown anywhere in the world it was needed. However that truck was turned around and will be coming back to Alicante.

They expect to spend the rest of Sunday and Monday working out what went wrong. Obviously some concern with a second mast and similar rigging that the same part could fail again. He expects the repair and replacement to 'take three days at least as a guess. Hopefully it is two, but maybe four - it is amazing what a team of people can achieve.'

It would seem that the finger is being pointed at a part failure or a rigging failure rather that the spar itself.

'The Volvo 70 rule forces you to build quite a heavy mast', explained Walker. ' So mast failures should be quite rare, so you look towards rigging and fitting failures.

'We have tested the rigging on this mast for over a year, We have sailed 8000 miles with rigging similar to what we had fail last night', he added.

Walker said the sea conditions were not too extreme only about 1-1.5 metres but these conditions are harder close inshore, than when you are offshore and the seas are longer.

'We were sailing about 13kts at the time, we had slightly cracked sheets bashing into a seaway.'

There was some concern to try and retain as much of the mainsail as possible without chopping it away, so it could be easily repaired.

'We pulled the mast alongside the hull and a spreader punched a hole through the side of the hull. We cut the head of the mainsail to get it on board. It is a standard hull repair which could be done inside 36 hours, and we will be hauling the boat as soon as we can', he said.

'We have a complete spare mast, and a complete spare set of fittings, plus we managed to salvage everything off the existing mast. The mast maker is based in Valencia, which is very handy.

'The mainsail has some holes in it, but my gut feeling is the sails will be fine. However the J4 spent about an hour as a sea anchor, I'm not too sure what they will do for its shape.'

Turning to the impact of the mast failure on the crew, Walker commented 'when you have worked so hard every day for 18months, you are desperate to win. We had to rebuild Green Dragon in the Philippines last time.

'This race is not over for us, but we are very, very disappointed. We were looking forward to getting into the tradewinds because that is where we thought we were going to excel, but that will have to wait for three or four days now.

'We are well aware that you don't win the Volvo Ocean race in the first day, but you can lose it. We kept saying this to ourselves for the first two hours.

'It is too early to start making judgements but at this point we still believe we can win the race,' Walker concluded.