Damian Foxall's Groupama is limping towards a haven in Uruguay after being forced to suspend racing from the fifth leg after the mast broke with a second successive victory agonisingly close.
Groupama sailing team plan to construct a jury rig and resume racing to Itajaí after reaching Punta del Este at 0335 UTC on Thursday, 12 hours after dismasting.
Though devastated, French skipper Franck Cammas and his crew are keen to return to the racetrack as soon as practical as a podium finish remains well within reach.
While they are unlikely to return to pole position, with only about 600 nautical miles remaining to the finish, third place is likely as CAMPER continue repairs in Chile and the remainder of the fleet have retired.
The French team were leading the Leg 5 race to Itajaí, Brazil when their mast broke, level with the first spreader, about 10 metres above deck. The team suspended racing at 1542 UTC.
Groupama were 59 nautical miles from Punta del Este, and opted to motor to port. The team were considering shipping their spare mast from the Netherlands and stepping it in port, but this morning decided to continue under jury rig.
"We just lost the rig now, all the crew is safe. We are working to stabilise the rig on the boat. Not easy" - Groupama skipper Franck Cammas
Groupama's dismasting while in the lead earlier today leaves PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) with only Telefonica (Iker Martínez/ESP) able to challenge them for the lead in the final stage of what has been an incredible Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí.
With 677 nautical miles to go to the finish line, Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) dismasted 60 nautical miles (nm) south of Punta del Este, the Uruguayan port that has hosted the Whitbread Race on three occasions.
The team held a narrow lead of about 2.2 nm over PUMA at the time and was sailing close-hauled on port tack, when the rig broke, level with the first spreader, about 10 metres above the deck.
"We just lost the rig now, all the crew is safe. We are working to stabilise the rig on the boat. Not easy," a desolate skipper Franck Cammas told Race HQ at the time.
"We suspend the race now and have a look at what doing. We are 59 miles to Punta del Este."
* Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will ship their boat to Brazil and return to strength for the Itajaí In-Port Race after damage forced them to retire from Leg 5.
The team made the tough call not to attempt to complete the 6,700 nautical mile leg from Auckland to preserve the safety of the crew and stop further damage to their yacht Azzam. Skipper Ian Walker notified race officials of his team's retirement at 1000 UTC on Wednesday.
With 50-knot winds and 10-metre seas forecast at Cape Horn for the next four days, Walker said their decision was "the only logical option".
"As skipper my overriding responsibility is the safety of Azzam and her crew and this is always at the forefront of my mind," Walker said.
"The Southern Ocean is one part of the world you do not want to head out into with a yacht that is not 100 per cent.
"We have carefully reviewed all our options, spoken with our build teams and weather experts and this was the only logical choice available to us."
Abu Dhabi first discovered the damage to the mid section of the left side of Azzam's hull on March 29 while battling horrendous Southern Ocean conditions.
The crew carried out a daring mid-sea repair in 35 knots and four-metre seas, drilling 30 bolts through the hull to reinforce the damaged section.
Despite the team's heroics, it was decided the repair was not strong enough to take on the remaining 3,000 nm of the leg.
On April 4 the team arrived in Puerto Montt Chile.
* The CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand crew is confident of resuming racing in Leg 5 to Itajai over the weekend with repairs on the boat's damaged bow section expected to take three to four days in Puerto Montt. The team arrived in the Chilean port at 2100 local time on Tuesday night and the shore crew, led by Neil Cox, wasted no time in assessing the hull with a full ultrasound survey to check for no further unseen damage.
Skipper Chris Nicholson, competing in his fourth Volvo Ocean Race and no stranger to adversity, said his team was determined to reach Itajai in time to compete in the in-port race.
Shore crew manager Neil Cox said on Tuesday he was hopeful of a quickfire pit stop. "During the course of all this work our sailing team will be getting their heads around the remaining leg as well as any other boat detailing, and with all best intentions and a little luck we hope to be in Brazil and in a position to finish the leg and compete in the in-port race there," he said.
Two Boats Left Sailing
Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad issued a statement yesterday expressing his concern at the continuing instances of boats suffering serious damage in the 2011-12 edition.
Frostad, who competed in the race four times himself, said it was not acceptable to have so many incidents of boats failing in a Volvo Ocean Race. Frostad said race organisers would continue to do everything possible to get the boats not currently sailing back in the race as soon as possible.
Text of statement, which was released after Groupama sailing team announced they had suffered a broken mast, leaving only two boats currently racing in Leg 5 from Auckland in New Zealand to Itajaí in Brazil:
"It's too early to conclude exactly why this has happened but we are obviously concerned about seeing so many incidents of damage to our boats both in this leg and in the race as a whole.
"It is not acceptable that in a race like this we have so many failures. It is not unusual for boats to suffer problems, and sailors and shore teams are used to having to deal with some issues with their boats, but this has been on a bigger scale than in the past.
"It's important that we don't leap to any conclusions about why these breakages have happened. Some of them are clearly not related. However, we will take the current issues into account as we make decisions on rules and technology we will be using in the future.
"We have already put in a lot of work, discussing with teams, designers and all other stakeholders about the boats and the rules we will use in the future, and we expect to be in a position to announce a decision on that before the end of the current race.
"For the time being, our focus continues to be on the safety of the sailors. We are doing everything we can to help Groupama, and the rest of the teams not currently sailing, get back in the race as soon as possible."