Keeping His Eye on the Prize
Published on February 18th, 2017
At 2300 French time, Conrad Colman (USA/NZL) called his team on February 10 (Day 97) to inform them his IMOCA Foresight Natural Energy was dismasted. It was his first Vendée Globe, he was in tenth place, and had only 739 nm to the finish in Sables d’Olonne. Devastated but undeterred, here he reports on February 18 (Day 105).
This dismasting and jury rig experience has been so intensely emotional and such a challenge for my resolve I barely know where to start in telling the tale.
I guess it makes sense to go back nearly eight years to August 2008. It was a stifling hot summer on the south coast of England where I was racing at Cowes Week, the biggest regatta of the season with nearly 1000 boats on the water at a time. I was racing as jib trimmer on a matched set of 52 foot yachts as part of the GBR yacht racing academy, but instead of going to bar with my crew after sailing, I went to the sail loft to work the late shift.
At the time, Medina Sail Care was precariously perched on the edge of the water and on the second floor over an outboard mechanic’s workshop. It was, and still is, run by Gerry, a warm natured South African who’s everybody’s friend in the small community of Cowes and who regularly takes young guys under his wing if they’re ready to work until 3am to learn the trade.
Sunburned customers would arrive after a day’s sailing, their celebratory beers on their breath and a wet spinnaker under their arm. Plooof. The sodden mass fell to the floor sending a tidal wave of salty water across the floor. “Can you fix that for tomorrow morning?”
We eyed the dripping tatters that once had been a proud sail. We always could do it, but first had to wash it with fresh water, hang it up to dry, clean it with acetone, stick down new cloth with double-sided tape before sewing it all down. Nothing sticks to wet, salty sail cloth.
All of this to say that when I had to make a new mainsail for my jury rig, I was in for quite a challenge. I didn’t have acres of floor space, fresh water, sewing machines, or a second pair of hands! Because there was no way to build up the reinforced corners of the sail that would take the sailing loads, I had to “find” a ready-made sail within the scraps of my old main.
Turning the sail 90 degrees, I could use the reinforcements for reef two for the head and the tack and another existing reinforcement became the new clew. The bottom of my new sail was thus the back edge of the old mainsail.
I spread out the new edges as best I could, rubbed the salt off with my clothes, laid down long rows of double-sided tape and then taped over the seam again for security. Reinforcements went on for where it would be tied onto the boom (now used as the mast). I cut out a batten pocket from another piece of the sail and glued it down with flexible epoxy (Thanks Dr Sails!).
It sounds simple but it took me a whole day. As the forecast is thankfully for mainly running and reaching until Les Sables, I spent a little extra time to make a square head for the main that gives me a little extra surface area. I think its the only square headed main in the history of jury rigs!
I was working in such a cramped space that I never saw the whole sail at once until the mast was up. That’s also because I tied the main to the mast instead of making a halyard to hoist it after the new mast was in place. That added a lot of weight when I had to put the whole lot on my shoulder to help hoist it vertically, but with such a small sail I don’t think I’ll need to take a reef in the coming days.
In comparison, the storm jib was easy. Simply unfurl, change the luff cable and hoist. So nice that the IMOCA rule requires us to have a such a tiny sail (19.5 square meters). Its almost as if they had this use in mind because I have only ever seen the storm jib in use on these boats when the mast has come down.
Now all I need to do is make it to Les Sables before I turn into a skeleton! I’m already down to powdered soup and life raft biscuits but that’s a topic for another day.
Final Results (Top 10 of 29)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), Finished, 74d 03h 35m 46s (1/19/17)
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), Finished, 74d 19h 35m 15s (1/20/17)
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), Finished, 78d 06h 38m 40s (1/23/17)
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), Finished, 80d 01h 45m 45s (1/25/17)
5. Queguiner – Leucemie Espoir, Yann Elies, (FRA), Finished, 80d 03h 11m 09s (1/25/17)
6. Finistère Mer Vent, Jean Le Cam (FRA), Finished, 80d 06h 41m 54s (1/25/17)
7. Bureau Vallée, Louis Burton (FRA), Finished, 87d 21h 45m 49s (2/2/17)
8. Spirit of Hungary, Nándor Fa (HUN), Finished, 93d 22h 52m 09s (2/8/17)
9. CommeUnSeulHomme, Eric Bellion (FRA), Finished, 99d 04h 56m (2/13/17)
10. La Mie Câline, Arnaud Boissière (FRA), Finished, 102d 20h 24m 09s (2/17/17)
The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.
For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.
November 12, Day 7 – Tanguy de Lamotte, Initiatives Coeur, masthead crane failure
November 19, Day 14 – Bertrand de Broc, MACSF, UFO collision
November 22, Day 17 – Vincent Riou, PRB, UFO collision
November 24, Day 19 – Morgan Lagravière, Safran, UFO collision
December 4, Day 29 – Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh, dismasted
December 6, Day 31 – Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio, UFO collision
December 7, Day 32 – Sébastien Josse, Edmond de Rothschild, foil damage
December 18, Day 43 – Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord, UFO collision
December 24, Day 49 – Stéphane Le Diraison, Compagnie du Lit – Boulogne Billancourt, dismasted
December 24, Day 49 – Paul Meilhat, SMA, keel ram failure
January 1, Day 57 – Enda O’Coineen, Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland, dismasted
Source: Vendee Globe