• 30-MAR-2015

  • SOURCE: Volvo Ocean Race

DONGFENG MAST BREAKAGE: WHAT HAPPENED AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Full update:
The mast remains quite unstable on Dongfeng as Damian Foxall explains: "We really cannot do much more to stabilize the situation right now. At some stage I think we are going to have to go up there and cut some stuff off."

Following the breakage of the mast onboard Dongfeng at 0315 UTC today (Monday, 30 March), the determined men of Dongfeng are now sailing slowly towards Ushuaia, Argentina, itself 250 miles away. The entrance to the Beagle Channel that leads there is just 160 miles away, then another 70 miles in the channel. The crew are able to continue sailing using a small headsail only, and only on port tack for now, progressing at a speed of around 6-8 knots [very rough ETA Ushuaia if all goes well will be midnight GMT tomorrow]. The Dongfeng shore team have been scrambled and are already on route to rendezvous with the boat. The Volvo Ocean Race technical support team, headed up by Nick Bice, along with GAC, are already on the logistics of getting one of the spare masts to Brazil.

Charles describes what happened:
"I was inside, we were sailing along and suddenly I heard a bang – I thought it was a rudder – the guys on deck called everyone on deck. First thing I imagine was that the top car of the mainsail had broken, we didn't realise the mast was broken at first. Then we came outside and we realised. It was a dark night and we put the light on the top of mast and the mast was broken over the top of the third spreader – end of the leg, maybe."

Why?
"We were not pushing a lot, less than the others, as I really wanted to take care of the boat. We have to find out why; we have a few ideas – it doesn't seem like we broke a cable (rigging), more like the mast tube break itself. Why? We don't know. We will have to solve this with Southern Spars but it's too early to speak about that."

Difficult conditions?
"We didn't make any mistake, we were sailing normally, not in really strong conditions – fast conditions, for sure. The sea state was quite good and could not have been a reason."

The impact on Dongfeng's race?
"We are going to lose a lot of points. It's not ideal for us. We are going to have hard moments – instead of racing for the next 7 days we will be trying to solve this problem and to join the next leg so we are going to be very busy. Not much rest so it's going to be a hard time for the team. I always tell to my guys, you don't do the Volvo Ocean Race without meeting a BIG problem. Last time (on Groupama), we broke the mast on the same leg and we won the race so the game is not over for us. We will lose some points but we will still be on the podium and we are going to attack and try to come back. It's not the end of the world, just one leg hopefully."

Is it safe onboard right now?
"Yes, but we have 4-5 metres of the mast flying over our heads just holding on by one halyard and the big fractional sail, the one we had up, which is flying around to leeward. We have to solve this problem as we cannot go to Ushuaia like that – that is my main concern now. Maybe we have to abandon the whole rig but I hope not. I'm not sure we can save our mainsail so this is what we will focus on in the next hours."

The dilemma:
Dongfeng has not officially retired from leg 5 as yet and skipper, Charles Caudrelier, is still considering the possibility of the race crew continuing on from Ushuaia under sail once the rig has been fully stabilised and the boat checked, to sail back west and around Cape Horn and on to the finish in Itajai. Finishing the leg in last place will score 6 points, a DNF (Did Not Finish) following an official retirement, scores 8 points. Only 2 points difference but 2 points that could make all the world of difference by the time this nine-leg race finishes in Gothenburg in June (NB lowest cumulative points wins).

The reality of that undertaking for the crew is considerable – reaching Itajai days after the rest of the fleet and having less time for crew to recover, and for boat to be refitted – is also a concern. Alternatively, the shore team can get the boat to Itajai under engine and carry out maintenance work en route ahead of the full repairs required once they reach Itajai. This is the dilemma for the skipper, but Charles and the team management will be considering all the options fully before making a final decision and we know although Charles is competitive, he puts the safety of his crew first.

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