Vestas 11th Hour Racing missed the Hong Kong to Auckland leg of the Volvo Ocean Race after hitting a fishing boat on its way to the Chinese territory, leaving one fisherman dead

Wellington (AFP) - The Volvo Ocean Race embarks on its most gruelling leg, across the wild Southern Ocean, this weekend with a full complement of yachts following repairs to Vestas 11th Hour Racing after a fatal collision.

Vestas missed the Hong Kong to Auckland leg after hitting a fishing boat on its way to the Chinese territory, leaving one fisherman dead.

It was transported to New Zealand, where specialist boat builders rushed to fix its hull in time to rejoin the race for the Auckland-to-Itajai leg which begins on Sunday.

Organisers describe leg seven as the toughest of the race’s 11 stages, where yachts face the prospect of violent storms, icebergs and huge swells.

“This is the defining leg of the Volvo Ocean Race … this is the one that everyone wants to win,” they said.

“It has more myth and legend swirling around it than the Holy Grail.”

At 7,600 nautical miles (14,075 kilometres), it is the longest leg of the race, taking competitors down into the Southern Ocean, past the legendary Cape Horn, then up South America’s eastern coast.

Spain’s Mapfre leads the overall standings in the 11-leg around-the-word race on 39 points, followed by the China-backed Dongfeng Race Team on 34 and SHK/Scallywag on 26.

Vestas’ return means all seven yachts that set off from Alicante in Spain on October 23 in the eight-month round-the-world odyssey are back in the fleet.

The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race is the longest in the competition’s 44-year history, stretching over eight months and 45,000 nautical miles around the globe and ending in The Hague in the Netherlands in late June.