Volvo Ocean Race fleet depart for China with Team Vestas Wind

Team Vestas Wind, the crew whose boat was grounded in the middle of the Indian Ocean, waved farewell to the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet on Saturday as they set sail for the third leg to China from Abu Dhabi.

The Danish crew will have to sit out the third leg to Sanya on the southern-most tip of China and the next four stages but they have targeted a return for the final two legs from June as their boat is repaired.

For Chris Nicholson, the skipper of Team Vestas Wind who led his crew to safety on the night of November 29 after it ran into the reef 430 kilometres from Mauritius, it was a painful experience.

“The toughest moment for us will be the first night of the leg,” Australian skipper Chris Nicholson told a news conference on the eve of the departure for the 4,642-nautical mile (nm) trip to Sanya in Hainan Island.

“That’s when you really know you’re in an offshore race. But we have a new target now – to concentrate on repairing our boat to return to the race.”

The race is perfectly poised with three teams – Team Brunel (Netherlands), Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team (China) – tied at the top of the standings with four points apiece.

They are chased by Team Alvimedica (Turkey/USA), who were awarded an extra point for time lost in the second leg for diverting course to sail to the assistance of Team Vestas Wind.

The third leg of the 38,739nm race, which started on October 4 in Alicante, Spain and visits 11 countries and each continent, promises to be one of the most hazardous of the event.

The boats will need to navigate the 500nm Malacca Strait dividing the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia.

The 500nm stretch of water, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, narrows to 1.5nm at its most narrow point.

Team Alvimedica’s experienced Australian navigator Will Oxley summed up the challenge.

“I’m pretty happy dealing with big waves and strong winds, but the complexity of dealing with a narrow channel, and a very large amount of shipping is what causes the problems,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“Some 300ft of steel coming at you at 20 knots is always concerning, particularly if you haven’t got much control over your speed if there’s not much wind.

“Then you have squalls, very violent squalls in the night, and there’s lots of fishermen who are not showing navigation lights and have long nets. You can get tangled in the nets, or worse still, run someone over. So it’s very stressful.”

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing led the six-strong fleet out of their host port under a thick blanket of fog after several laps of an in-port course. They were pursued by Dongfeng Race Team (China) and Team SCA (Sweden), the all-female crew who won the Abu Dhabi in-port race on Friday.

Latest standings after Leg 2: 1 Team Brunel (Netherlands) 4 pts, 2 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 4, 3 Dongfeng Race Team (China) 4, 4 Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 9, 5 MAPFRE (Spain) 11, 6 Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 12, 7 Team SCA (Sweden) 12

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