March 11, 2015

SAN DIEGO (AP) Dirk de Ridder will sail the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race with Team Brunel, his first major competition since serving an 18-month suspension stemming from one of the biggest scandals in America's Cup history.

De Ridder will replace Laurent Pages, who broke two ribs during the stopover in Auckland, New Zealand. The team said Pages was injured when he tripped and fell.

De Ridder joins the crew for the toughest leg of the round-the-world race, from Auckland to Itajai, Brazil. The leg is 6,776 nautical miles and swings through the unforgiving Southern Ocean.

''It feels good,'' de Ridder said in an email to The Associated Press. ''It's not the perfect preparations but I'm pretty ready.''

Team Brunel is in third place overall.

The Dutchman has sailed the Volvo Ocean Race three times previously, winning it with illbruck Challenge in 2001-02 and finishing second with Merit cup in 1997-98 and second with Pirates of the Caribbean in 2005-06.

De Ridder had a $500,000 contract to sail the Volvo Ocean Race with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing but was suspended by the International Sailing Federation for allegedly altering a boat used in warmup regattas by Oracle Team USA prior to the 2013 America's Cup. De Ridder has denied involvement.

In the harshest penalties in America's Cup history, ISAF tossed de Ridder out of the 2013 America's Cup four days before it began and docked Oracle Team USA two points in the standings. After falling behind Emirates Team New Zealand 8-1, Oracle won the final eight races in one of the greatest comebacks in sports to retain the Auld Mug.

ISAF later suspended de Ridder for five years, which was reduced to three years. De Ridder took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which, after finding fault with both de Ridder and ISAF, reduced it to 18 months.

The harsh punishment has caused outrage among some in sailing. Paul Henderson, a former ISAF president and former member of the International Olympic Committee, and former Oracle Team USA sailor Matt Mitchell have filed complaints of gross misconduct against the five members of an international jury that handed down the penalties. Mitchell was suspended for the first four races of the America's Cup.

In 2010, de Ridder trimmed the radical 223-foot wing sail that powered Oracle's trimaran to a two-race sweep of a catamaran sailed by Alinghi of Switzerland.

In another Volvo Ocean Race development, an independent commission that investigated the crash of Team Vestas Wind on an Indian Ocean reef has recommended an overhaul of navigational charting in offshore racing to prevent similar accidents.

The Danish boat's crew avoided serious injury when it grounded on the reef on Nov. 29 at around 40 knots. The boat was badly damaged and the crew was forced to abandon it in darkness and wade to the safety of a nearby large rock in shark-infested waters before being rescued by a local coast guard.

The Team Vestas Wind boat has since been retrieved and is being rebuilt for a return to the race in June. Navigator Wouter Verbraak was dropped from the crew in January.

The independent commission blamed the crash on the crew failing to spot the reef on onboard electronic navigational guides. It has recommended that industry standards of charting, both electronic and paper, be improved.

The panel said a passenger aircraft-style list of check-points should be ticked off before boats take to the open sea. That's not currently standard procedure in many leading events, including the Volvo Ocean Race, which is widely considered the sport's top offshore challenge.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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