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Sun 6 Nov 2011 10:07 AM

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Azzam hit with broken mast in Volvo Ocean Race

Abu Dhabi yacht suspends racing after blow, New Zealand’s Camper sets pace

Azzam hit with broken mast in Volvo Ocean Race
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racings yacht Azzam competes in the opener of The Volvo Ocean Race

New Zealand entry Camper made the best start on the opening
leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday as the six teams contesting the
eight-month, 39,000-nautical-mile event set off from Alicante, Spain bound for
Cape Town.

After completing the inshore course, the elegant 70-foot
yachts were faced with testing conditions out in the Mediterranean and the Abu
Dhabi entry became the first casualty when their boat Azzam suffered a broken
mast 30 nautical miles south of Cartagena off the Spanish coast.

The wind was blowing 30 knots and the waves were about 3.5
metres, organisers said.

"There is no panic on board and we're planning to motor
back during the night before effecting repairs," navigator Jules Salter
told race control.

Azzam's shore team were working on a recovery plan to ensure
the yacht can rejoin the race as soon as possible, organisers added.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe had earlier set the teams on
their way, with former France soccer team captain Zinedine Zidane riding on
board Azzam for the eight-mile inshore course.

Camper had opened a lead over Puma Ocean Racing of the
United States of one minute 39 seconds at the leaving mark, with Spain's Team
Telefonica another 36 seconds behind.

Abu Dhabi, who won last weekend's in-port race, were next,
followed by Groupama of France, who took a voluntary two-turn penalty following
a collision with Puma just before the start. China's Team Sanya were sixth.

"The conditions at first will be ideal for these boats
-- fast sailing in fresh breeze," chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said
on the race's website.

"But within about 12 hours, as the boats race into the
night, they will have to punch upwind into winds around 25 knots and confused
seas. These boats will be slamming around and it will be very wet on
deck."

The latest edition of the race, which began as the Whitbread
Round the World Race in 1973 and is considered one of the toughest challenges
in sport, is expected to be fiercely contested following changes to the rules
designed to create a more level playing field.

The teams feature some of the world's best off-shore
sailors, including Olympic gold medallists, America's Cup winners and world
champions.

The race ends in Galway, Ireland in July next year after
taking in ports including Abu Dhabi, Sanya in China, Auckland in New Zealand,
and Itaja in Brazil.

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