Sea of trouble for Volvo boats



The shakedown cruise of the Volvo Ocean Race has lived up to its name.

Less than 48 hours after the start of the around-the-world regatta, three of the seven yachts are in Portuguese ports to repair damage from heavy seas and winds in excess of 35 knots. Another boat is taking on water, but continuing.

Damage may mean that the two highest-profile boats - the Disney-backed Pirates of the Caribbean and Movistar, the Spanish entry - will arrive in Cape Town, South Africa, the first-leg finish line, in cargo containers rather than under sail.

For the quadrennial race in the final year of its sponsorship deal with Volvo, the damage to the relatively untested boats and the reduced field do not bode well for its future.

Race organizers scrapped the 60-foot yachts used in the last two events in favor of larger boats made of lightweight materials and pivoting keels, which have a spotty performance record. Several Volvo 70s were rushed into production and launched late.

Yesterday, Glenn Bourke, the head of Volvo Ocean Race, conducted his own land-based damage control.

"While it's a pity we have three breakdowns in this leg, I have no doubt these boats will still be a big factor in our race," said Bourke in a statement.

Pirates skipper Paul Cayard reported that water was entering the boat around the pivoting keel, damage that can only be repaired in dry dock.

In an e-mail from the port of Cascais, Cayard said the shore team and engineers from Farr Yacht Design of Annapolis will assess structural damage and set a repair schedule.

"Options are to return to Leg 1 should the repairs be quickly feasible, or ship the boat to Cape Town and then reincorporate in Leg 2," he wrote.

The damage to Movistar is more disturbing. Where the Pirates boat had a limited amount of ocean testing, the Spanish entry had the most pre-race miles under her keel.

The boat's skipper, Bouwe Bekking, reported hearing a loud crack and bang as one of the structures holding the hydraulic device that moves the keel from side to side gave way.

The crew was able to shift the load to the other control mechanism to maintain boat stability, but the added pressure caused the main bulkhead to buckle.

The third damaged boat is the underfunded Brunel Sunergy of Australia (formerly Premier Challenge), which broke the fitting that holds the boom to the mast of the boat.

A fourth boat is continuing despite damage from a small fire and fierce seas. ABN Amro One, a Dutch entry, is sailing with an emergency tiller after a massive broach tore away a steering-wheel pedestal, leaving a hole where sea water is rushing in.

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