Volvo Ocean Race 2011: Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi entry breaks mast

British skipper Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team were forced to suspend racing with a broken mast  as high winds hit the opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday.

Walker's 70ft boat "Azzam" was damaged 30 miles south of Cartagena, Spain.

The six-boat fleet set sail from Alicante earlier on Saturday bound for Cape Town in the famous around-the-world race.

"We have no injuries and our situation is stable," said Walker at the time.

The crew are deeply disappointed

Abu Dhabi crewman Nick Dana

After motoring back to Alicante, Walker admitted it could be three days before his team are able to resume racing.

"I'd be surprised if we could do it within three days," said Walker, a two-time Olympic silver medallist and former British America's Cup. "But it's amazing what you can do with a strong will. I say three days, hopefully it's two."

Chinese entry Team Sanya has also suspended racing and is seeking a safe location to make repairs after suffering hull damage in 40knot winds on Sunday morning.

Skipper Mike Sanderson told race control: "The situation is very much under control, everyone is obviously disappointed but in good spirits as all are safe on board."

A member of Azzam's crew, Wade Morgan, entered the water in 3.5m waves to try to rescue the rig after the mast broke in three places as it landed off a big wave.

"Wade was able to make several attempts at cutting [the sails free]," said team-mate Nick Dana, the designated media crewman onboard.

"However, a very violent sea state made it extremely dangerous for him to remain in the water.

2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race route

  • Leg 1 - Alicante to Cape Town
  • Leg 2 - Cape Town to Abu Dhabi (inc shipping boats to a safe haven to avoid piracy in Indian Ocean)
  • Leg 3 - Abu Dhabi to Sanya (Chi)
  • Leg 4 - Sanya to Auckland
  • Leg 5 - Auckland to Itajal (Bra)
  • Leg 6 - Itajal to Miami
  • Leg 7 - Miami to Lisbon
  • Leg 8 - Lisbon to Lorient (Fra)
  • Leg 9 - Lorient to Galway

"The crew retrieved him promptly and were able to get the mainsail off the lock - allowing it to slide down the rig and be pulled from the water.

"The mast from the first spreader up is now secured to the port side of the boat. About three or four metres protrude from behind the boat. A spider web of lines is keeping the operation intact. The crew are deeply disappointed."

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe had earlier set the teams on their way, with former France footballer Zinedine Zidane riding on board Azzam for the eight-mile inshore course before the fleet headed out to sea.

New Zealand's Camper had opened a lead over Puma Ocean Racing of the United States of one minute 39 seconds at the final mark, with Spain's Team Telefonica another 36 seconds behind.

Abu Dhabi, who won last weekend's in-port race, were next, followed by Groupama of France, who took a voluntary two-turn penalty following a collision with Puma just before the start. China's Team Sanya were sixth.

Walker's team won the first in-port race of the event in Alicante last Saturday and lead the standings with six points. The winner of the first leg will earn 30 points.

The latest edition of the prestigious race, which began as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973, ends in Galway, Ireland in July next year after stopovers in Abu Dhabi, Sanya (China), Auckland, Itajal (Brazil), Miami, Lisbon and Lorient (France).