Endless Boat Damage in Volvo Ocean Race Raises Concerns

What began in Auckland, New Zealand, as a highly anticipated leg involving six well-equipped boats has dwindled down to a two-boat race.

Less than 700 miles from the finish in Itajai, Brazil, Groupama suffered a broken mast and suspended their race to assess the full extent of the damage. Only PUMA and Telefónica remain in contention for the first-place title.

“It's very difficult to be in the battle for victory, to have sailed superbly well in the Pacific and then end up like this in the last 24 hours,” says Groupama’s skipper Franck Cammas. “It's not too horrific in terms of points, but the stakes are no longer the same.”

Of the three other teams currently incapacitated, only one has the potential to rejoin the race. CAMPER has begun work on repairing its hull whose damage forced them to dock in Chile a couple days before.

Unable to complete the leg, Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya are shipping their boats and will rejoin the race in Itajai.

While boat repairs are common in sailing, their frequency in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race is unsettling. The event’s CEO Knut Frostad says it is “unacceptable” for so many breakages to happen during this race. Inspired by the recent dismasting of Groupama, event officials are beginning to evaluate underlying causes in the rising amount of damages.

"It's important that we don't leap to any conclusions about why these breakages have happened. Some of them are clearly not related,” Frostad says. “However, we will take the current issues into account as we make decisions on rules and technology we will be using in the future.”

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