Heavy winds and big seas turned the opening 24 hours of the Volvo Ocean Race into a demolition derby yesterday. On the first leg from Vigo to Cape Town the Spanish pre-race favourite, Movistar, suffered major structural damage and was last night limping towards Cadiz.
She may be joined by a second casualty, the American boat The Black Pearl, whose keel box was leaking, while the Australian boat Brunel Sunergy was struggling without a mainsail.
Also wiped out by a squall was ABN Amro I, whose skipper Mike Sanderson reported two crew, Tony Mutter and Jan Dekker, swept along the deck, the port steering wheel and protective pedestal ripped out, a hole in the deck allowing water to flood a stern compartment, and, after breaking a rudder linkage, the emergency rudder having to be fitted.
Still leading, but waiting for another major onslaught of gale-force winds, was the youth crew on ABN Amro II, skippered by Sébastien Josse, as their senior brethren sorted out the mess, while the chase by Torben Grael's Brasil I, with the British skipper Neal McDonald playing catch-up in Ericsson.
A team from the Bruce Farr office, which designed Movistar and Pearl, is on its way from Annapolis to Spain, and the director of the Spanish team, Pedro Campos, said that he would mobilise everything to rectify the damage and to help rival Paul Cayard, of the Disney-backed American yacht, which flies the Pirates of the Caribbean flag.
Further west and south, Ellen MacArthur was regaining the lead in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Working non-stop with co-skipper Roland Jourdain in the doublehander from Le Havre to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, she transformed a 30-mile deficit to the 2003 winner, Jean-Pierre Dick, to a 1.9-mile lead. Her next hurdle is crossing the Doldrums but Dick may not be able to rely on luck as the notorious area of calm is narrow and on the other side there are strong trade winds which should carry MacArthur to the finish.