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Ocean racing fleet battered by weather

NOV. 15 -- Competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race got off to a bumpy start in the first offshore leg from Vigo, Spain, to Cape Town, South Africa, with four of the seven boats sustaining serious damage in the first 24 hours. Paul Cayard’s The Black Pearland Bouwe Bekking’s Movistar were both forced to port for repairs.

The crew of The Black Pearl was forced to head for Cascais, Portugal, for repairs after the boat started taking on water, which disabled the keel controls, according to a release on the team’s Web site. Apparently, the crew experienced a strong vibration on the boat that lasted 15 minutes. An inspection of the boat found water around the canting keel structure, jamming it.

The crew aboard Movistar reportedly heard a “sickening loud crack and bang” as the boat went off the front of a wave and slammed back down into the water, a news report says. The sound was said to be the breaking of the carbon-fiber structure that holds the hydraulic rams that control the canting keel. The damage spread to the bulkhead, and skipper Bouwe Bekking headed to Cadiz, Spain, for repairs.

The other Volvo Open 70 teams — ABN Amro One, ABN Amro Two, Brasil I, Ericsson Racing Team, and Sunergy and Friends — also experienced difficulties in winds that reached 50 knots, news reports say.

The Volvo Ocean Race, formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, is a globe-circling 28,000-mile regatta sailed every four years. While the route is changed according to different ports of call, the general route runs south through the Atlantic, around the southern tip of Africa, through the Southern Ocean and eventually around Cape Horn, then returns to the start. Crews generally experience the roughest sailing in the Southern Ocean.

— Jason Fell