Paul Todd / Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race leg 4 split (postponed)

VO70s to sail around the Bay of Sanya before returning to the dock to wait more clement weather

Saturday February 18th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: China

Organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race have announced that Leg 4 from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand have come up with a cunning way to postpone the start. Leg four will now be split into two stages.

Race Director Jack Lloyd informed the teams on Saturday that this split will take place too allow dangerous conditions in the South China Sea to clear, with a forecast suggesting waves of up to eight metres that could wreak havoc in the fleet.

So tomorrow's start will go ahead as planned at 1400 local time (0600 UTC) and will see the boats complete an inshore course in Sanya Bay before sailing past the famous Guanyin Buddha of South China Sea statue with a finish line off Sanya Bay lighthouse at the entrance to Sanya Marina.

The fleet will then wait until conditions are deemed safe enough for them to set sail on Stage 2, which is unlikely to be for more than 24 hours. The re-start will be staggered, with the boats leaving in the order they finish Stage 1.

"It could be that we re-start the in the hours of darkness on Monday morning," Lloyd told the teams.

Forecasts of winds gusting above 40 knots and waves of eight metres prompted the decision, according to Race CEO Knut Frostad. "We will re-start the race some time on Monday and it could be in darkness," Frostad said. "We are doing this because of the weather advice issued by experts both from our own Race HQ in Alicante and the teams' experts. They all believe we have conditions which will be dangerous up to 12-18 hours after the Leg start, with waves that can break boats if you sail into them."

He added: "This has been a very, very difficult decision for us which we've waited as long as possible to make so that we make the right one."

Iker Martínez, skipper of Telefónica, said he supported the decision: "We have to trust those forecasts. It was very difficult to make this decision but it is clearly a case of safety first and we don't want to go up against a wall."

Puma skipper Ken Read added: “They’re estimating between 6-11m waves in the South China Sea - that’s serious boat breaking weather. With these boats, it’s the waves that can really cause problems. We all know from sailing around this part of the world in the last race that the sea state is relentless and nearly sank three boats in the fleet. Volvo has erred on the side of caution to make sure the fleet stays safe and intact.

“When the boats are in conditions like that, it’s a bit of Russian roulette. You can have all of the seamanship in the world, but you fall off one wave wrong and you can do some serious damage to people or boats. The last thing we want is for someone to get seriously hurt or the fleet to shrink.

“Also, when we’re out in the open ocean and a major weather system is coming our way, we can normally sail around the edge of it. This route to New Zealand goes straight through the South China Sea around the northern tip of the Philippines, and there’s no going around this weather system, no avoiding it. I know it was a tough call for Volvo, but I think they did the right thing.”

Fresh in the minds of organisers were the problems suffered by the fleet in the Strait of Luzon in the last race, when most of the boats suffered serious damage.

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