SANYA, China (Reuters) - A sickness bug forced out Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Adil Khalid just before the start of the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on Sunday and prompted the team to give an unexpected debut to a member of their behind-the-scenes shore crew.
Khalid informed his team that a vomiting virus would prevent him joining the eight-man crew of the second-placed team for the 5,264-nautical mile (nm) leg from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand which started on Sunday.
That led to a dawn telephone call to Briton Alex Higby's hotel bedroom from skipper Ian Walker to tell him to prepare for one of the toughest stages of the nine-month, 38,739nm marathon offshore race.
He will take over Emirati Khalid's role as trimmer and helmsman.
"I know Adil is devastated to have to miss the fourth leg and I have wished him a speedy recovery," Higby, 29, told reporters.
"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."
The pressure will be on the newcomer. Abu Dhabi were just one point off the overall race lead after being pipped by Chinese boat, Dongfeng Race Team, for the previous leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya.
Narrow leaders Dongfeng, led by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, are the in-form crew in the 12th edition of 41-year-old event, which is held every three years.
They followed a pair of runners-up spots in the opening two legs with the first leg victory for a Chinese-backed boat in the history of the race and on Saturday, also won a pre-departure in-port race.
The six-strong fleet is expected to arrive in Auckland in early March after three-and-a-half weeks voyaging through the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean. Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) will miss the leg. Their boat is being rebuilt after it hit a reef in the Indian Ocean during leg two.
The race will conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27 after visiting 11 ports and every continent.