Telefonica Blue is back on course
[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] His boat has been passed fit, but Telefonica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking feared his team's chances of winning leg five were less than healthy when they finally started racing this morning.
It was 07:42 local time when they eventually returned to racing status in the leg, nearly 19 hours after their boat hit a rock in yesterday's pre-start and suspended racing.
Initially it was feared they had suffered serious damage to the keel, but after thorough overnight examinations of the bulb, shore boss Campbell Field rated the boat at "100%" free of structural damage. Bekking, though, was less confident in his team's chances of recovering to win a third straight leg.
"Right now you would say it is marginal but we have seen strange things happen in our sport," he said. "We just have to see how it goes. We will lose quite a bit in the next two or three days because they are always in better pressure. But we just have to see how it goes, hope they park up somewhere and we can reel them back in.
"Strange things have happened before," he added. "We saw PUMA left the Philippines a day later than everyone else (in leg four) and a day later she was ahead of most."
Telefonica Blue sets sails for Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Qingdao, 15 February 2009. Photo copyright Volvo Ocean Race
Navigator Tom Addis explained that the later start has given the team a few scant benefits from the weather.
"We do get a cleaner exit out of here than the other guys. They had a weak southerly and had to transition into the northerly flow and we start in that northerly flow. We shouldn't keep haemorrhaging miles to them, we should get on the pace quite quickly."
Despite the pressure to make up ground, Addis insisted he would not allow the pressure of an early deficit affect his decisions in the bid to catch up.
"You can try and cut the corner, you can try and turn south earlier, but you've got a long time in the trades where you're sailing a tighter angle," he said. "I don't, at this stage, want to get tempted into that. I think the best thing for us is to think long term, it's still 4,500 miles to the scoring gate so we have to sail the course that is best for us."
Addis admitted the collision with a rock has weighed heavily on his mind. The team said they had been sailing seven knots in depths of 11 metres when they suddenly ground to a halt and suspended racing two-and-a-half minutes from the starter's gun. The nearest charted shallow spot was a full 110 metres from their position, leaving Addis stunned at an incident that left a hefty crack in the port side of the keel fin and dents on the bulb.
"I'm still quite dark about what happened," he said. "All the charts and information we had said we should have been clear, but it keeps running through my head. The navigator's primary job is to not hit anything and we did. All my paper charts and electronic charts said we should have been clear. We were only a line's length from the pin-end."
Telefonica Blue undergoes keel repairs. Qingdao, 15 February 2009. Photo copyright Volvo Ocean Race
Bekking exonerated his navigator of any blame, but was less than pleased with the local charts.
"I'm just surprised there are no proper maps in the area, that's just unbelievable," the skipper said. "But what happened happened and we can't change it. There's no structural damage and that's the main thing. We are behind but it's a long race.
"He (Addis) didn't do anything wrong and that's what I said to him. There is one shallow spot over there but we were far away from that. We should have been in 11 metres of water."
The team is now fighting to get back in a leg which could prove pivotal to the final race leaderboard. Blue currently sit seven points adrift of Ericsson 4, and one ahead of PUMA, but bowman Michael Pammenter is not giving up hope.
"The leg is going to take about 14,000 miles so there's a long way to go and it's about 40 days sailing," he said. "We are leaving half a day behind and the boat that wins won't win by a few hours, they'll win it by half a day or more.
"There's always a good chance we could catch a few boats because from where we are we can see who is going fast and who isn't, who has good wind. That will help. We just have to stay positive and see what we can do."