VDH dismasts

Disaster for Jean-Luc van den Heede after two months at sea

Tuesday January 7th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
Around 1400 GMT on the afternoon of 6 January, while at 55degS 133degE, the mast of Adrien, the monohull of Jean-Luc van den Heede fell for no apparent reason. The skipper is fine, but it took him nearly six hours to clear the deck and save his boat.

“There is 55 knots of wind and very big seas” confided VDH with amazing calm as he contacted his shore crew at the start of the evening. “The foot of the mast gave way first of all then the mast broke just above the foot. I tried to hold onto it for nearly an hour and a half by tightening the shrouds but it ended up falling completely”. He added: “Don’t worry about me, my safety is not at risk today and I don’t require assistance”. After 64 days at sea, Jean-Luc was 18 days ahead of the singlehanded non-stop westabout round the world race record set previously by Philippe Monnet.

After two months of racing against the clock, VDH has had to throw in the towel once again. He was a little more than halfway when the mast of his 26 metre monohull fell. The damage is especially worrying as it happened in the middle of nowhere: 1500 kilometres from the nearest land and right in the Furious 50s which have once again lived up their name.

“I wasn’t over canvassed - far from it" commented van den Heede. "It was the start of a depression, the wind was blowing at 40/45 knots. I was under staysail and third reef. Since the start of my voyage I have been very careful and have never put Adrien under unnecessary strain. The seas were very big - as ever in this area. Nothing could stop it. It was building very quickly. It was around 1400 GMT, but the middle of the night for me, when I felt the shrouds became limp. I tried to tighten them but in reality the foot of the mast was giving way and it was pointless. After struggling with it for an hour and a half it ended up cutting in two just above the mast foot and falling to port.

“When it broke it took out the stanchions and guard rails. The work on deck to free Adrien of her mast which risked damaging it, was very laborious. I was obsessed by the fact that the mast was going to ram the hull. I had to saw through the shrouds with a hacksaw. On boats of this size everything is bigger and more sturdy, so it is that much more difficult to cut. Nevertheless I managed to keep back three or four metres of the mast so that we can analyse and understand what went wrong”.

Waiting for better conditions.

The day was breaking in the 50 degree latitudes and VDH, wet, exhausted but safe, went to have a rest. Here it was 2100 hours. In the early hours (for us), Jean-Luc - who is not requesting assistance - was getting back to the task in hand. As always he sincerely hopes to be able to bring his boat back to port under his own steam. “I must set up a jury rig to get back. I have the spinnaker pole and boom that I was able to save; with the two staysails that should work. The closest landfall is Tasmania south of Australia (1500km). I will head for New Zealand or Australia. For now I can’t work on deck. The conditions are Dantesque. There is nothing else I can do other than sit it out”.

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