THE MILLIONS of euro worth of sailing vessels that comprise the competing boats in the Volvo Ocean Race were delicately loaded onto ships in the Indian Ocean yesterday in a bid to prevent violent pirates from learning the route and attacking the valuable vessels as they edge slowly closer to the finishing line in Galway next summer.
Aftre weeks of racing, attention switched to a delicate operation to load the Volvo Ocean Race yachts onto a ship that will transport them to the United Arab Emirates following Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s arrival at a secret ‘safe haven’ in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday.
As part of a raft of measures introduced by race organisers to counter piracy in the Indian Ocean, Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race has been split into two parts with the location of the safe haven kept secret.
As soon as Telefónica arrived on Monday, work began to prepare her for the risky loading operation, an unprecedented move in the 38-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The five 15-tonne yachts are being craned 40ft into the air onto a ship with their 100ft masts still in place before being transported to the northern United Arab Emirates. Neither the sailors nor the shore crews will be on board the ship during the transit.
Telefónica and CAMPER were first to be loaded in calm seas followed shortly by PUMA’s Mar Mostro.
Groupama 4 and Abu Dhabi’s Azzam should be loaded in the next few hours.
The ship’s loadmaster said: “Things are going exactly to plan so far. And I’m hopeful that all of the boats will be lifted on safely by this evening.”
The ship left for the United Arab Emirates last night, with the arrival due early in January.
The boats will then be unloaded and the leg will restart to Abu Dhabi, the Volvo Ocean Race’s first ever Middle Eastern stopover.
Team Telefónica will enter 2012 at the top of the overall leaderboard after picking up 24 points for winning the dramatic first stage of Leg 2 by an impossibly tight margin shortly before 1800 UTC on Monday.
Abu Dhabi arrived in fifth place, the final boat that will be shipped following the arrivals of stage winners Team Telefónica followed by CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Groupama sailing team.
“I am upset not to have finished with a better result but on the other hand after the disaster of breaking our mast on Leg 1 I feel a strange feeling of relief to have at least completed the first part of the second leg,” Abu Dhabi skipper and former Green Dragon captain Ian Walker said.
They move seven points ahead of CAMPER, who they pipped to the line by one minute and 57 seconds after more than 4,000nm of racing.
PUMA Ocean Racing followed just over five hours later with Groupama coming in three hours later still.
“We went into this leg with confidence,” said a disappointed PUMA skipper Ken Read. “It’s a bit of a shame because we had a couple of points in this leg where we did really the right thing and put ourselves in the right position.”
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas added: “It’s frustrating because five days ago we were imagining winning the leg.
“The Doldrums was bad, and then the light spots at the end were bad. We know these conditions are not good for our boat and for our speed but for sure we didn’t manage the start very well.
“Maybe we were too frustrated before and we tried to come back with an option that was just too risky. It was a mistake, I think. We need to be more patient and not fight all the time for first place.”
Team Sanya, the sixth boat in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, were forced to suspend racing and head for Madagascar after suffering rigging damage while in the lead on Day 9.
Their current focus is on getting the boat in the best shape possible for Leg 3 into their home port of Sanya in China.