Five multimillion-dollar yachts involved in the Volvo Ocean Race left on an armed ship on Wednesday to be transported through an area of the Indian Ocean because of the threat of piracy.
The decision to load and ship the boats part of the way — with the waters deemed too dangerous to sail — is unprecedented in the sport, organizers said.
The 13.6 tonne yachts with their 31m masts still in place were hoisted up and placed in custom-built cradles on board the ship at an undisclosed “safe haven” port in the Indian Ocean.
“Boats are built to go in the water, not the air, so this operation scared me,” said Iker Martinez, the Spanish skipper of leading boat Telefonica. “A lot can go wrong very quickly when you’re hauling these super-fragile boats around.”
The custom-designed yachts cost about US$10 million each to build, but to the round-the-world race, they are invaluable.
The latest measure is part of a multifaceted plan that includes the introduction of a large exclusion zone to keep the boats from sailing through dangerous waters near Somalia’s coast and a so-called “stealth zone” to keep the identity of the stop-off port secret.
Loading the yachts on board the armed ship and transporting them to Sharjah in the northern United Arab Emirates is the biggest and most expensive step in the plan, with a cost of about US$1 million to organizers.
The teams are expected to arrive at the location within six days and complete the leg with a short sprint into Abu Dhabi in the first week of next month.
Spain’s Team Telefonica lead the race by seven points from Camper after snatching victory from their chief rivals in the first stage of Leg 2. French team Groupama are third.
The race is due to finish in Galway, Ireland, in July after taking the teams more than 39,000 nautical miles (72,228km) around the world.