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Feb 15, 11:59 AM EST

Sick crew member threatens leaders' progress in Ocean Race

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Sick crew member threatens leaders' progress in Ocean Race

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ALICANTE, Spain (AP) -- A case of influenza on board Team Brunel threatened to derail its hopes of victory in leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race after it took the lead Sunday in the middle of the Pacific Ocean en route from China to New Zealand.

While the six-strong fleet has been at sea for a week since leaving Sanya, China, on the 5,264 nautical mile journey to Auckland, Spaniard Pablo Arrarte has been confined to his bunk for long periods with a fever.

One of the biggest risks facing the crews is sickness in the eight-man teams, which can spread quickly in the cramped conditions aboard the 65-foot racing yachts.

Effectively, the Dutch team is a man down but a bold tactical move to sail north of most of the rest of the fleet has brought it stronger winds, allowing it to take a narrow lead.

Arrarte's illness, however, is a big cause for concern among his crewmates.

"This is threatening," said Jens Delmer in a message from the boat. "We live in such a small space that something can spread easily to the group.

"Because of the bad food and little sleep, everyone has a super low resistance. This is normally not a problem because we leave port with a sterile boat and at sea there are no viruses. But if someone brings it on, then we will all be at risk."

So far, none of the other sailors are showing symptoms but they are all giving Arrarte as wide a berth as possible and his eating and drinking utensils are being regularly sterilized.

The race to Auckland is expected to be concluded in early March. It is the fourth of nine legs overall in offshore sailing's toughest professional crewed event.

The nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile marathon round-the-world race is scheduled to finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In all, the race visits 11 ports and every continent. China's Dongfeng Race Team is leading overall by a one point from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing after the first three legs.

One of the original seven crews at the start in Alicante, Spain, Team Vestas Wind (Denmark), has been forced to suspend racing for repairs after crashing into a reef in the Indian Ocean during the second leg. It hopes to return to racing in June.

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