Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese entrants in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, suffered a scare in the sixth leg from Brazil to the United States when the onboard electronic machine that converts sea to drinking water failed.
With around two weeks and more than 4,000 nautical miles (nm) still to sail from Itajaí to Newport, Rhode Island, the issue could be a serious threat to their progress since the boats do not stock bottled drinking water and the heat in the cabin can sometimes reach 50 degrees Celsius.
The problem was a broken seal, which was leaking water from the machine, but the crew reported on Thursday that they have managed a makeshift repair to get it working again for the time being.
“Obviously, water is key for everybody in every situation, but especially in a boat like this in a regatta like this,” said the race’s official doctor, Pablo Diaz.
“Dehydration is probably the worst medical issue we could face as it is something related with the rest of the organs and tissues in a human being.
“On board our boats, each sailor needs a minimum of three litres per day.”
Each team has a hand-operated pump, which can also convert saline water into drinkable water in an emergency, but it is estimated that the sailors would need to pump for up to eight or nine hours per day to produce enough for the entire crew.
Despite the setback, Dongfeng were still tucked in the middle of the pack on Thursday (0940 GMT) as the boats made their way through the Atlantic Ocean out of Brazil on the 5,010nm leg.
Overall race leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing held a narrow 1.18nm advantage at the head of the fleet, clear of the all-women crew, Team SCA (Sweden).
They were in turn chased by Team Alvimedica (Turkey/USA), MAPFRE (Spain), Dongfeng and Team Brunel (Netherlands), all within no more than 13nm of the Emirati leaders.
The crews are expected to reach Newport around May 6-9, depending on conditions, to complete the sixth of nine legs in the 38,739nm, nine-month marathon offshore race.
The event, held every three years, is scheduled to finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Latest standings (after five legs, lowest points wins)
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 9 pts, 2 Dongfeng Race Team (CHN) 16, 3 Team Brunel (NED) 18, 4 Team Alvimedica (USA/TUR) 19, 5 MAPFRE (ESP) 20, 6 Team SCA (SWE) 29.
– Agence France-Presse