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Storm batters Velux 5 Oceans fleet

OCT. 26 - Less than two days into the Velux 5 Oceans Race solo-sailing pioneer Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was forced to return to port for repairs after his sailboat was knocked down in a storm on the Bay of Biscay that kicked up winds of more than 70 knots.

“The waves are watery Himalayas; it is as bad as anything you would see in the Southern Ocean,” the 67-year-old sailor says in a message to his shore team, posted on the race Web site. Knox-Johnston arrived in La Coruna, Spain, yesterday, where his Open 60, SAGA Insurance, will be repaired. The mast track was damaged 9 feet above the deck and pulled free from the mast. Knox-Johnston reportedly attempted to make repairs, but the section of track is buckled and the mainsail couldn’t be fully raised.

“Rolled last night,” Knox-Johnston says in an e-mail to race headquarters after the storm. “Section of mast track bent. Can’t remove all the screws so sail stuck … Masthead instruments unserviceable but alarms keep going off.”

The Velux 5 Oceans Race got under way Sunday off Bilbao, Spain. The storm surged over the Bay of Biscay and forced four of the six racers, including Knox-Johnston, to head for land for repairs, the Web site says.

Formerly known as the Around Alone and the BOC Challenge, the Velux 5 Oceans Race is the oldest single-handed round-the-world yacht race, according to organizers. This year the race both starts and ends (in April 2007) in Bilbao, with stopovers in Fremantle, Australia, and Norfolk, Va.

In 1969, Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. He accomplished the feat aboard the 32-foot Bermudan Ketch, Suhaili, in 312 days.

— Jason Fell