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Abu Dhabi forced back to port



Abu Dhabi's hopes of getting back into Volvo Ocean Race contention were hit on Sunday when they had to head back to port in Auckland after suffering damage to their boat slamming off the back of a wave.

The team skippered by Britain's Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker suffered the problem six hours after setting out on Leg 5 towards boat-breaking conditions, with forecasts of winds up to 60 knots and waves as high as eight metres.

They arrived back in Auckland at 1030 GMT with a breakage in the structure that keeps the crucial J4 sail in place.

Without it, they could not cope with the violent conditions that await the six teams on the race through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.

It was Abu Dhabi's second structural problem in the race with their mast having broken on Leg 1 less than 24 hours after they left Alicante, Spain at the start of the race on November 5.

This time it should be easier to repair the damage, with the team eyeing a return to the water within 24 hours.

"We could not have competed with the boat as it is so we took the decision to come back," said Abu Dhabi crew member Wade Morgan. "It's OK. The guys should be able to repair it soon and get us on our way."

Abu Dhabi are fifth overall and need leg victories to get back in the running for overall honours in the race, which finishes in Galway, Ireland in July.

TWO SUSPENSIONS

Team Sanya, the only team trailing Abu Dhabi in the standings, had earlier led the fleet out of Auckland.

The Sanya crew, under a former winner, Mike Sanderson, but using a second-hand boat, have suffered two suspensions so far to make repairs on their hull and rigging.

The race is at a key point with the boats still closely bunched in the overall standings halfway through the nine-month, 39 000 nautical mile test.

Telefonica of Spain lead by 15 points from French entry Groupama but with each leg counting for 30 points apiece and five stages still to contest, the race is still wide open.

"I have been following this race closely since 1981 and I don't think we've had one in that time where we still simply don't know how it's going to be settled by this point of the race," said Sanderson.

OVERALL STANDINGS:

1 Team Telefonica (Spain) 122 pts
2 Groupama (France) 107
3 Camper (Spain/New Zealand) 104
4 Puma (US) 83
5 Abu Dhabi 55
6 Team Sanya (China) 25.



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