Sanya - The Volvo Ocean Race fleet took an early battering in the opening 24 hours of leg four as race leaders Telefonica led into atrocious weather conditions in the South China Sea.
Winds up to 25 knots and five-metre waves greeted the fleet soon after leaving Sanya, China, at the start of the 5 200 nautical mile leg to Auckland in New Zealand.
After a light wind start out of Sanya Bay at 23:00 GMT on Sunday the six teams were soon experiencing the aftermath of the tropical weather system.
"The airdrops we are experiencing off the backs of these sharp waves make it difficult to keep your feet below you let alone a sail or a steering wheel in your hands," Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker said.
"Down below looks like a war zone. Several people have been sick already, and the rest just keep swallowing," he added.
At 13:00 GMT on Monday French team Groupama held a narrow lead over New Zealanders Camper in second.
Telefonica were in third, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fourth, Team Sanya in fifth and Puma in sixth just 15 miles behind the leaders.
In an unprecedented move race organisers delayed the start by 18 hours to avoid the worst of the dangerous weather created by a monsoon.
Organisers took the step after three boats were forced to retire from leg one of the latest edition and only just managed to recover in time for the next leg starting in Cape Town.
The last time the fleet sailed through a similar area in the South China Sea in 2008-09 several boats suffered serious structural damage that threatened their continued participation in the race.
The nine-leg Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 finishes in Galway, Ireland, in July.