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Martin Tasker: Brutal start to Volvo Ocean Race


By Martin Tasker

Published: 8:34AM Monday November 07, 2011 Source: ONE Sport

  •  (Source: ONE Sport )
    Source: ONE Sport

Traditionally in round the world races the shore crews celebrate their boat's departure with a "thank God they've gone" party.

But there was little of the party mood in Alicante when news filtered back just hours after the start of the Volvo Ocean Race that Abu Dhabi Ocean had broken its mast and was on it way back to port.

I was about to have a late dinner with some of the TV crew when we heard. A camera crew was scrambled to shoot the action at the "Crisis Meeting" as details gradually began to filter through.

Of course it had all started so well. Big crowds had gathered for the departures. Big emotions dockside and big winds for the round the buoys racing before the yachts headed out to sea.

Some of the pictures were simply breathtaking. The Team New Zealand sailors had Camper humming round the course, building a big lead very quickly.

Behind them Kenny Read at the helm of Puma was giving his bowman a fire-hose drenching around the marks that took the breath away.

In the commentary box working with Peter Lester we called the race for TV stations around the world for an hour and a half before shifting to internet coverage until the boats were out of range.

We already knew the fleet was in for a kicking without realising how soon and severe it would be.

After voicing the highlights package for the host broadcaster and sending my story for ONE News , I walked out of the TV compound into a howling gale which just never let up.

Back at the hotel the wind was smacking the trees against the building and, for the first time in what will be a long nine months, race followers woke in the night to think of the boys out on the ocean; "Poor bastards" the common sentiment.

Our thoughts and imaginings were focussed on the Abu Dhabi boys who'd won the in-port race to be at the top of the points table. Now they were motoring back through big seas on board Azzam , Arabic for "determined." They'll need to be as they fit a new mast shipped by road from Madrid and try to get back in the race.

Dawn broke only to bring more bad news with Kiwi Mike Sanderson's Sanya suspending racing after sustaining hull damage in 40-plus knots of wind and huge seas. Their race could be over, although you'd expect the team and Volvo to do everything possible to either repair the boat or work out some way of replacing it with another of the boats from the last edition of the race.

It could hardly have been a more brutal start and for those who've survived, the racing is just as intense with little between the four remaining yachts as they battle into the Atlantic.

Once they get there the game starts all over again with the big decision to be made about that where and when to head south. It seems already like they've been racing for a couple weeks not just a couple of days.