THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
A familiar face is on the horizon. Team Russia are on their way to Stockholm with the intention of taking part in the leg 10 sprint to their home port of St Petersburg, Russia.
The team suspended racing in Singapore after leg three as a consequence of insufficient funds, and have since been trying to source funding to resume.
In the meantime, they have largely changed their management and crew - Stig Westergaard has taken over from Andreas Hanakamp as skipper and, along with founder Oleg Zherebtsov, is the only returning member of the sailing team - and they now face a difficult task in being declared eligible to race.
Race Director Jack Lloyd said: "We haven't seen the boat since Christmas time when they left Singapore so we have no idea of the state of the electronics or the measurement condition of the boat. She just has to comply with the rules, like any other boat. All other boats have to maintain the boat in measurement trim and their crew have to qualify. They just have to go through that process.
"Their old crew has disbanded so probably about eight of them - if they want to take a full crew - have to take a safety course. We have got to do medicals and a little bit of other training, plus we have to get the boat back into measurement trim and get all the electronics done."
It amounts to a race against time for the team, who are currently at sea en route from Gothenburg and expect to be in Stockholm by Tuesday afternoon or evening. The leg 10 start is on Thursday.
Lloyd added: "There's an outside chance that they will make it and I think we will have to put an application to the jury for them to race just under their measurement certificate and that's the only thing that's negotiable really. It could be that they will start with some penalty."
Under the race rules, a team can suspend racing and return provided they meet the set criteria that govern the event. The practice is most usually used during a leg, whereby a team can receive outside assistance to help effect repairs in return for a time penalty (all the teams except Ericsson 4 and PUMA have taken this option at one stage or other during the race so far).
Westergaard is excited to be back. "Everyone on the team had a feeling that we had unfinished business. We all felt like we stopped in a way that none of us was really satisfied with. I think closing the door in St Petersburg is the right way to finish off Team Russia."
If Team Russia are deemed eligible to return, it could, in a tenuous sense, have an implication on the one remaining leaderboard battle. Second-placed PUMA currently lead Telefonica Blue by 6.5 points which, in the absence of Team Russia, would be enough to cement the position even if they finished last (seventh) on leg 10, collected two points and Blue won. If it is an eight-boat fleet, however, PUMA would only collect one point for finishing last or failing to finish while Blue could pip them by scooping the maximum haul of eight points. Blue have already learnt the hard way that anything can happen.