One of the most famous yacht races on the sporting calendar has come to a crashing halt half-way around the globe, after the £7m fleet began to fall apart in the South China Sea. It had already been confronted by pirates and struck by mountainous waves.
What should have been the adventure of a lifetime for scores of Britons in the amateur crews became a terrifying series of nautical dramas as this year's Clipper Round the World Yacht Race descended into chaos.
First, severe weather took its toll, and two crew members suffered broken bones. Sailors also had to fend off great white sharks and face armed Indonesian pirates. All before the race was brought to a standstill as the boats' keels began to fall off.
The supposedly state-of-the-art craft have all been grounded in the Philippines, following a dash for dry land, and are being rebuilt in Subic Bay. The race has been postponed until at least the end of March, but experts think it may be cancelled.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the event. The brainchild of renowned solo sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, it pits scores of amateur sailors against each other in a unique pursuit around the world's oceans.
The fleet, which set off from Liverpool in September, includes four boats, each with up to 17 crew, named after parts of Britain - Cardiff, Liverpool 08, Jersey and Glasgow. The last was confronted by the pirates near Singapore.
"It was hard enough dealing with 50ft waves, gale-force winds and sharks, without facing pirates," said Will Black, a crew member.
Mounted machine-guns were aimed at the boat as the pirates pulled alongside. But they did not attack.
Within days, the same boat was taking on water. Its keel was falling off. Similar problems were found throughout the fleet, and the contestants headed to port. Speaking from the Philippines, Tim Magee, the captain of Liverpool 08, said: "The keels are completely off on four of the boats... a lot of work is going on."
The company behind the race, Clipper Ventures, has offered to fly crew members back to the UK while the work is being done. Its chief executive, William Ward, said they were waiting for the outcome of a detailed survey of the ships, before considering legal action. "There will be a claim against the designers or the builders depending on the survey results," he said.
David Pugh of Yachting World magazine, who was due to join the fleet next week, said: "It's got to be costing Clipper Ventures a lot. But they can't be too careful, they've got members of the public under their care."
One of those who flew home is Hannah McKeand, 33, from Newbury in Berkshire. Miss McKeand, who was aboard Glasgow, is anxiously awaiting updates. "We were sailing up the South China Sea and noticed the keel bolts were moving," she said. "It was frightening and disappointing."
The race is due to end back in Liverpool in July.Reuse content