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ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The Volvo Ocean Race’s depleted fleet set sail for China from Abu Dhabi on Saturday for arguably the toughest stage of the marathon nine-month event.
The fleet has been reduced to six after one boat, Team Vestas Wind (Denmark), grounded on a reef in the Indian Ocean in the previous leg from Cape Town to the United Arab Emirates.
Although substantial damage was down to the vessel, the team’s backers on Friday announced that they plan to re-enter the race for the last two legs from June with a rebuilt boat.
The 12th edition of the 41-year-old race, generally acknowledged as offshore sailing’s toughest challenge, is intriguingly poised with three boats sharing the lead.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel (Netherlands) took the first and second legs and China’s Dongfeng Race Team joined them at the top courtesy of two runners-up spots.
The 4,670-nautical mile leg to China is expected to take three weeks to complete and the weather forecast suggests very light winds will initially be the fleet’s biggest problem.
The sailing will get very tricky as the fleet goes through the hazardous Malacca Straits dividing the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia.
“I'm pretty happy dealing with big waves and strong winds, but the complexity of dealing with a narrow channel, and a very large amount of shipping is what causes the problems,” Team Alvimedica’s experienced Australian navigator Will Oxley told reporters on Saturday.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing led the six-strong fleet out on Saturday under a thick blanket of fog after several laps of an in-port course. They were pursued by Dongfeng Race Team (China) and Team SCA (Sweden), the all-female crew who won the Abu Dhabi in-port race on Friday. The race is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.
Editing by Ed Osmond