Dongfeng Race Team breaks mast in Southern Ocean; US skipper rounds Cape Horn for first time

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SAN DIEGO — Hours after a Chinese team suffered a staggering setback when its mast broke in the remote Southern Ocean, the youngest crew in the Volvo Ocean Race experienced one of sailing's rarest and toughest feats when it rounded treacherous Cape Horn at the bottom of South America.

Team Alvimedica, led by American skipper Charlie Enright, rounded the fabled landmark on Monday while at the front of the fleet, just 15 minutes ahead of race co-leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

The 30-year-old Enright of Bristol, Rhode Island, said the sailors celebrated by smoking Montecristo cigars and taking photos with the cape in the background.

"Good cigars and good camaraderie," Enright said via satellite phone from one of the loneliest places on Earth.

"That's a big one. It's amazing, just amazing. It's been a goal of mine as long as I can remember," Enright said. "It got more and more real and now we're sailing away from it."

It was the first rounding of Cape Horn for six of the eight crewmembers, including Enright and fellow Americans Mark Towill of Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Nick Dana of Newport, Rhode Island. Team Alvimedica is having its best performance of the nine-month race on the 6,776 nautical mile fifth leg from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil.

The leg through the harsh Southern Ocean has been remarkably close as teams deal with freezing cold, big waves and danger from icebergs. Enright said Team Alvimedica, a joint American-Turkish entry, could see Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing after rounding the Horn.

"It was a great way to do it in the lead, during the day, with the weather permitting us to see what we were going around," Enright said. "You don't get points for rounding the Horn, but it's a nice feather in the cap. We have a long way to go."

On Saturday, Team Alvimedica crossed just 1 ½ boat lengths in front of Spain's MAPFRE after racing 11 days and more than 3,500 nautical miles on the leg.

Earlier Monday, Dongfeng Race Team was forced to suspend racing when its mast broke 240 nautical miles (445 kilometers) from Cape Horn.

The accident could hardly have happened in a worse spot.

The breakage in the top section of the mast means the team cannot properly maneuver the boat. None of the crew was injured.

The team originally announced it would have to quit the leg but later said it was investigating whether it could continue to Brazil after making repairs in Argentina.

The boat's French skipper, Charles Caudrelier, said he was devastated by the breakage. His team of Chinese rookies had been joint leaders with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the halfway point of the nine-month, offshore race.

"The mast broke without warning, in about 30 knots of wind," Caudrelier said. "We are unable to sail safely on starboard tack, but we are able to make reasonable speed on port tack. We will head towards Ushuaia, Argentina, and assess our options."

Volvo Ocean Race organizers said they had alerted maritime safety organizations and were doing everything they could to assist the crew.

Dongfeng will now face a race against time to have the boat transported from Ushuaia to Itajaí to start the next leg to Newport, Rhode Island, with a new mast. The fleet is scheduled to set sail for the sixth leg to the U.S. on April 19.

It is the second major breakage to hit the seven-strong fleet since the race began on Oct. 11 from Alicante, Spain.

On Nov. 29, during the second leg in the Indian Ocean, Denmark's Team Vestas Wind was badly damaged after it smashed into a reef. The crew escaped unhurt after wading through waters known to be shark-infested to reach safety. The vessel is being rebuilt and the team hopes to rejoin the race in June for the final two legs.

In all, the race will cover 38,739 nautical miles, visiting 11 ports and every continent. It is due to conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.

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