Volvo Ocean Race: Dongfeng team breaks mast

Published on March 30th, 2015

(March 30, 2015; Day 14) – Volvo Ocean Race can confirm that Dongfeng Race Team broke its mast early on Monday (GMT, March 30) but fortunately nobody has been injured and there is no immediate danger to the crew.

The incident happened 240 nautical miles west of Cape Horn at 0315 UTC on Monday, in the final hours of the night onboard Dongfeng. The crew reported that the mast broke above the third spreader.

Reached via Inmarsat, a disappointed Caudrelier said “I’m gutted. As you’ve seen from the position reports we have been on purpose backed off a bit, not attacking in any way. The mast broke without warning, in about 30 knots of wind. We are unable to sail safely on starboard tack, but we are able to make reasonable speed on port tack. We will head towards Ushuaia and assess our options for getting to Itajai”

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) is aware of the situation and is on standby to help if necessary.

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, the team is 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.

Skipper Charles Caudrelier 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.”

“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.

More news…
As nightfall descends on Dongfeng, they are still 50 miles (estimated 5 or so hours at current speed of 12 knots) from the entrance to the Beagle South Channel in Chilean waters. This is the narrow waterway that leads to the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, a further 60 miles to the east.

Volvo Ocean Race Control and the local MRCC, along with experts on the area such as Skip Novak, Whitbread legend, have been supporting Pascal Bidegorry and Charles Caudrelier’s planning for what can be a tricky entrance.

The Channel itself is famous for its sudden and strong gusts of wind coming down from the surrounding mountains. Whilst Dongfeng should be able to navigate safely in this zone, their lack of manoeuvrability is of course a factor to take in to account. Chilean authorities are aiming to provide a RIB, a small powerboat, to assist their entry in to the Channel.

Under the rules, Dongfeng may use her engine when she wishes to – but have to return to the position that it was started if they were to rejoin the leg. At this point skipper Caudrelier has not officially retired, although the plan remains to do so. This final decision is likely to be taken once the boat is safely alongside the dock in Ushuaia.

There are two points to save on the leaderboard, which who knows how important they could become in Dongfeng’s quest to finish on the podium in Gothenburg. However, the balancing issue is that to sail slowly under a jury rig, right back to the west and around Cape Horn as required in the rules, and then up to Itajai could compromise the team’s ability to be fully ready for leg 6 starting from Itajai in less than three weeks time.

Dongfeng’s shore team are on their way from Chile and Europe to Ushuaia – in plan A, a retirement from the leg, they would take over onboard once Dongfeng arrives. After securing the rig properly, and stocking up on fuel for the engine, they would then motor/sail as fast as possible up the Argentinian and Uruguayan east coasts to Itajai, Brazil.

At the same time, Volvo Ocean Race, GAC Logistics and Dongfeng’s operations teams are working through the options for getting a replacement mast to Itajai. If there was unlimited budget, it would be quite easy, just hire our own plane! The realistic plan is to find a scheduled cargo flight that can get the mast to Brazil, from where it can be trucked to the Itajai port, and prepared ready for the boat’s arrival. Hopefully.

Additional updates posted here.

Report from Dongfeng Race Team.

Race websiteTrackingScoreboardVideosCrew list

Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race began in Alicante, Spain on Oct. 11 with the final finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Racing the new one design Volvo Ocean 65, seven teams will be scoring points in 9 offshore legs to determine the overall Volvo Ocean Race winner. Additionally, the teams will compete in 10 In-Port races at each stopover for a separate competition – the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Series. The fifth leg, from Auckland, NZL to Itajaí, Brazil (6,776 nm), began March 18 with an ETA of approximately April 4.

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