Volvo Ocean Race: Abu Dhabi shelters in Hauraki Gulf

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK take down their headsail after sustaining damage to the J4 bulkhead, at the start of leg 5 from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has issued a statement saying that they will delay their restart of Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race to avoid potentially boat-breaking conditions in the South Pacific.  

The statement says that Ian Walker’s team set sail again from Auckland at midday local time (2300 UTC), just 12 hours after returning to the port to repair structural damage to their yacht Azzam.  

But on returning to the point inside of Great Barrier Island where the team suspended racing six hours into Leg 5, Walker and his crew made the call to seek shelter and wait for the horrendous weather conditions waiting for them in the South Pacific to ease.  

Chart extract of the Hauraki Gulf, showing the Coromandel Peninsular, Great Barrier Island and the Colville Channel - through which the Volvo Ocean Racers sail before heading for Cape Horn
. ..
A spokesman for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing said: 'The conditions the team is facing at the moment are fearsome with winds as high as 60 knots, and it would be unsafe to sail into them. The team plan to hold off from heading out into the open ocean until the conditions ease and become safe to race in. This is a decision of seamanship, and the right one to make.'  

Abu Dhabi headed back to Auckland after Azzam suffered structural damage to the bulkhead that holds down the heavy-weather J4 sail around 50 nautical miles into Leg 5 to Itajaí in Brazil.  

As soon as Azzam arrived back into port at around midnight local time, the shore team jumped into action, working through the night to complete the repair around 12 hours earlier than expected.  

'The shore crew has done a great job,' Walker said as his crew prepared to slip lines around midday local time on Monday.  

'Not just the boat builders but everyone from the girls in the office to the riggers, the sailmakers. Everyone’s been at it all night and it’s not much fun down below at the moment. It’s 60 degrees inside the boat curing the bulkhead and they’re still at it. They did a great job and that’s enabled us to get out of here quicker and that keeps us closer to the fleet.'  

The repair job put Abu Dhabi around 24 hours behind the rest of the fleet which could prove crucial as the boats head towards the Southern Ocean.  

Chart extract of the Colville Channel, one of two entrances to the Huaraki Gulf. Channel Island is approxiamtely where Abu Dhabi suspended racing
. ..
'Nobody wants to cross the Southern Ocean a day behind the other boats, so there’s no doubt that’s on people’s minds,' Walker added.  

'On the other hand we’ve turned this around quickly and we’re very grateful to the shore crew for that. Once we get sailing everyone will get back into the routine and start crossing off the miles and hopefully we’ll get a break.'  

At 2020hrs local time, the Volvo Ocean Race Tracker shows her in the vicinity of Port Jackson on the northen end of the Coromandel peninsular, close to Channel Island at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf and where she suspended racing yesterday. Winds in the area around that time were gusting 55kts.

She continued east and at 2130 had cleared the Colville Channel in SE winds still gusting to 54kts

Winds at Cape Reinga in the Far North of NZ have recorded gusts of just under 70kts stemming from a low pressure zone that is besieging northern New Zealand with strong winds and rain.

The other yachts in the race are about 80nm off the coast of New Zealand and are heading in a SE direction at speeds of around 20kts.

Abu Dhabi left Auckland around midday, local time, after spending 12 hours having a J4 bulkhead re secured, after the frame detached from the hull. The bulkhead is used to provide structural strength for the securing point of the J4 jib, a small headsail, which Abu Dhabi's crew believe would have been required for 80% of the 6700nm leg to Brazil.