Wild Oats dismasted
Incredibly, only one crewmember, Sydneysider Peter Shipway, was slightly injured when the 42m high carbon fibre mast exploded into three pieces and crashed over the side. Shipway was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs. Four other crewmen were hurled into the water during the incident. They either managed to swim back to the yacht and were dragged aboard or were picked up by support boats.
The yacht’s 79-year-old owner, Bob Oatley, was aboard but escaped injury. He and the yacht’s helmsman, Mark Richards, took charge of events, first checking on injuries and then organising crew to jettison the shattered rig and sails so that the hull was not punctured in the choppy seas. The rig along with the new mainsail and headsail were dumped overboard within 15 minutes and the yacht then returned to Porto Cervo under its own power. A doctor went aboard as Wild Oats XI entered port to check on Shipway’s condition. He then arranged for him to be transported ashore on the yacht’s inflatable support boat so he could be taken to hospital for further assessment.
Even before the yacht had reached port Oatley declared to his 24-man crew that no effort would be spared in trying to have the 30m long yacht repaired and on the start line for the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race on 26 December. Oatley, whose family company owns the tropical Hamilton Island resort and is behind the new Wild Oats and Robert Oatley range of wines in Australia, is determined to give his yacht and crew every chance to score a third consecutive line honours in the 627-nautical mile classic. Wild Oats XI will be shipped back to Australia from Italy almost immediately while plans are put in place for a new rig and sails to be made.
It appears that the mast broke as a consequence of the failure of rigging supporting it. Crew reported hearing one relatively small ‘bang’ then what was literally an explosion as the hollow carbon fibre spar broke into pieces and crashed down around them. With the balancing pressure of the rig then gone and the massive 12-tonne canting keel at its maximum tilt to windward Wild Oats XI rolled to windward so violently that the four crewmen were thrown over the side and Shipway was injured.
Wild Oats XI was only four minutes into the 65-nautical mile race when the mast broke. What is confounding the crew is that there was only 11 knots of wind and small, choppy seas at the time while for 45-minutes prior to the start there was no sign of problems when they were sailing upwind in 14 knots of wind and a considerably more severe sea state.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen in ten years of offshore campaigning,” said Mark Richards. “We could understand it more easily if we were pounding upwind in rough seas and strong winds, but that wasn’t the case here.”
It is expected that an effort will be made tomorrow to salvage the shattered sections of the mast and the sails in the hope that more light can be shed on the cause of the problem.