Impact resistance

SEB arrived with a large chunk of her bow missing. James Boyd looks at the possible outcome if they are protested

Wednesday March 27th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States
illbruck Challenge have announced that they will not proceed with their potential protest against Team SEB for ramming them at 8 knots in a simple port-starboard incident soon after the start of leg five.

The facts that are known are straightforward. Illbruck was on starboard with rights and SEB was on port without. The boats at the time were sailing under non-overlapping headsails in daylight and so there was little excuse for the SEB helmsman, who remains un-named, not being able to see forward. There is no information to suggest that illbruck didn't hold her course, nor that the helmsman on SEB was un-able to carry out a big bear away because the main was still sheeted in tight.

It seems like this was a simple case of misjudgement and a potentially expensive and dangerous one on the part of SEB's helmsman. It is hard to believe this incident took place in an event as professional as the Volvo Ocean Race, involving many of the world's top yachtsmen. Whitbread historians Bob Fisher and Tim Jeffery have been racking their brains, but the consensus is that this is the first ever incident of a collision between two boats in this round the world race.

When Gunnar Krantz and his team arrived in Miami in the early hours this morning, they seemed understandably sheepish that they should have made such a fundamental error. There is a large gouge in SEB's sacrificial bow - this is an area at the bottom of her stem made out of block foam and backed by a bulkhead (see photo below), while illbruck lost her aft stanchion, damaged her pushpit and the padeye to hold the sheet for her larger spinnakers. More seriously she was also holed.

Illbruck Challenge may not be protesting Team SEB, but this may not be the end of the incident. Under Volvo Ocean Race rules the Race Committee is obliged to protest a vessel if they have inflicted 'serious damage' on another vessel. It is interesting to note that the situation would be different if the event was held under the full set of ISAF rules in which case SEB would have been forced to retire immediately. Because of the duration of the Volvo Ocean Race this particular ISAF rule has been overridden so that boats can continue racing.

Assuming the Volvo Race Committee do protest SEB then they will then hold a hearing where the judge will determine their penalty. In Volvo's race rules guidelines for penalties due to 'serious damge' being inflicted are specified as ranging from a deduction of five points to a disqualification. If it gets to this then it may be more prudent for Krantz to simply retire from the leg in which case he would still score a single point for the leg (as opposed to zero - five points for coming fourth, minus five).

The contentious issue and potential get-out clause for the race committee is over what constitutes 'serious damage'. On the one hand illbruck very nearly won this leg and so clearly the incident had little affect on her sailing performance. On the other if she had been in Rio prior to the start with a broken stanchion and pushpit then she would have failed scrutineering for her safety equipment.

There once was an IYRU case covering what constituted 'serious damage'. This set as its criteria whether or not it was prudent or feasible for a yacht to continue racing, whether her finishing position was affected, the degree of the damage and ratio between the cost of repairs and the value of the boat.

With a broken rudder, a dismasting and now this, it is hoped SEB's trio of disasters may now be over.

The point of collision - it is believed that the damage is so low down because SEB struck illbruck on her leeward side - roughly 1m forward of her transom.

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