Sailing-Abu Dhabi forced back to port after battering

* Abu Dhabi’s hopes hit by structural damage

* Team suspend racing and head back to port

* Hope to return to the water within 24 hours
(Updates with Abu Dhabi forced out due to structural damage)

Zealand, March 18 (Reuters) – Abu Dhabi’s hopes of getting back
into Volvo Ocean Race contention were hit on Sunday when they
had to head back to port in Auckland after suffering damage to
their boat slamming off the back of a wave.

The team skippered by Britain’s Olympic silver medallist Ian
Walker suffered the problem six hours after setting out on Leg 5
towards boat-breaking conditions, with forecasts of winds up to
60 knots and waves as high as eight metres.

They arrived back in Auckland at 1030 GMT with a breakage in
the structure that keeps the crucial J4 sail in place.

Without it, they could not cope with the violent conditions
that await the six teams on the race through the Southern Ocean
and around Cape Horn.

It was Abu Dhabi’s second structural problem in the race
with their mast having broken on Leg 1 less than 24 hours after
they left Alicante, Spain at the start of the race on Nov. 5.

This time it should be easier to repair the damage, with the
team eyeing a return to the water within 24 hours.

“We could not have competed with the boat as it is so we
took the decision to come back,” said Abu Dhabi crew member Wade
Morgan. “It’s OK. The guys should be able to repair it soon and
get us on our way.”

Abu Dhabi are fifth overall and need leg victories to get
back in the running for overall honours in the race, which
finishes in Galway, Ireland in July.


Team Sanya, the only team trailing Abu Dhabi in the
standings, had earlier led the fleet out of Auckland.

The Sanya crew, under a former winner, Mike Sanderson, but
using a second-hand boat, have suffered two suspensions so far
to make repairs on their hull and rigging.

The race is at a key point with the boats still closely
bunched in the overall standings halfway through the nine-month,
39,000 nautical mile test.

Telefonica of Spain lead by 15 points from French entry
Groupama but with each leg counting for 30 points apiece and
five stages still to contest, the race is still wide open.

“I have been following this race closely since 1981 and I
don’t think we’ve had one in that time where we still simply
don’t know how it’s going to be settled by this point of the
race,” said Sanderson.

Overall standings: 1 Team Telefonica (Spain) 122 points, 2
Groupama (France) 107, 3 Camper (Spain/New Zealand) 104, 4 Puma
(U.S.) 83, 5 Abu Dhabi 55, 6 Team Sanya (China) 25.

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