High-wind drama for boat in Volvo Ocean Race

Crew repair yacht mast while racing in rough seas. A team had to stop racing while they tried to fix the problem, and slipped around 300 miles behind the Volvo Ocean Race leaders.

Damage to the track that attaches the mainsail to the back edge of the mast on team AkzoNobel’s Volvo Ocean 65 race boat has forced the crew to slow the boat down as the sailors assess the problem and try to identify potential repair options.

The damage, which was reported to Volvo Ocean Race control by email from team AkzoNobel navigator Jules Salter (GBR) this morning, happened as the crew was in fourth place, gybing along the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone (AIEZ) in 35 knots of wind and big seas.

During one gybe from starboard to port the mainsail track on the mast was damaged in two places. The sailors were able to lower the mainsail and turn the boat away from the AIEZ and are continuing to race using the boat’s forward sails only.

There are no reports of any injuries on board as a result of the damage and the crew is liaising with Volvo Ocean Race’s race control staff and the team’s land based technical shore crew to establish what repair options are available to them.

The team reports that the mast track damage to the Volvo Ocean race entry, Team AkzoNobel is not as severe as originally feared. The gybe ripped the mainsail track from the back edge of the mast, broke several of the mainsail’s carbon battens, and punctured the sail itself in several places. It was captured on film by Volvo Ocean Race on board reporter James Blake (NZL).

In the video watch captain Chris Nicholson (AUS) who was helming at the time describes what went wrong during the gybe.

Despite having to slow down and wrestle the enormous sail to the deck in 45 to 50-knot winds and gigantic waves the international crew of seven men and two women has since been quick to assess the damage and formulate a repair plan.

Working in consultation with the team’s technical shore crew and experts from the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard maintenance facility the sailors have come up with a possible repair scenario to get them back racing at full speed as quickly as possible.

Happily, the mast track is only missing in one place – rather than two, as the sailors had originally feared – after it broke during the windy crash gybe deep in the Southern Ocean close to the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone (AIEZ).

That bit of good news may mean the crew can reattach enough of the track using strong epoxy adhesive to eventually be able to use the mainsail at full hoist.

At the 1900 UTC (1800 CET) position update this evening team AkzoNobel was in fifth place, travelling at 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour), 174 nautical miles (322 kilometres) behind the leg leader Dongfeng Race Team (CHN).

This afternoon, in winds gusting up to 45 knots and massive rolling ocean swells, part of the crew has been concentrating on sailing the boat as fast as possible using just headsails, while the others have been working on the repairs to the mast and to several of the horizontal carbon battens that stiffen the sail and help it keep its shape in the wind.