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Briton Alex Higby, a member of the shore crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, was given an unexpected berth for the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race starting Sunday — covering for a sick team member.

Adil Khalid, a trimmer/helmsman from Abu Dhabi, was forced out of the stage from Sanya in China to Auckland in New Zealand because of a vomiting virus.

Higby, 29, is an accomplished sailor in his own right but is stepping up in class to join skipper Ian Walker (GB) and the other seven crew of Abu Dhabi for the 5,264-nautical mile leg. Previously, he has been working in the sail loft for the team’s shore crew.

He first learned of his surprise call-up at 7 am – seven hours before Sunday’s leg departure – when Walker called him in his hotel room.

Higby told reporters: “I know Adil is devastated to have to miss the fourth leg and I have wished him a speedy recovery.

“I haven’t had much time to think about the significance of getting the call-up from Ian, but I’m of course very excited to get the chance to sail in my first Volvo Ocean Race leg.”

Walker added: “Adil is an important part of our crew and so it was a difficult decision to stand him down for this leg.

“But this is a particularly virulent bug and we can’t take the risk of infecting the rest of the crew during the leg.”

Abu Dhabi lie just one point off the overall race lead held by China’s Dongfeng Race Team, who won the previous stage from Abu Dhabi to Sanya.

Charles Caudrelier, its French skipper, is determined to continue with his pre-race plan of giving as much race experience to his squad of four Chinese sailors as possible. So he is making four changes to the crew that sailed the previous leg.

Martin Stromberg (Sweden), Erwan Israel (France) and Chinese pair Yang Jiru and Chen Jin-Hao step in.

Caudrelier’s toughest call was to go ahead with the pre-race plan of resting Pascal Bidegorry (France), his long-time mentor, with Israel taking his role of navigator for leg four.

Israel certainly does not lack experience in the race after winning the previous edition as part of the Groupama crew.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Auckland in about three-and-a-half weeks. In all, it will sail 38,739 nautical miles over the nine months of the race before it ends in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27. – Agence France-Presse

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