At the time Ellen MacArthur's maxi catamaran was sailing in 28-33 knot winds under full mainsail and spinnaker on starboard gybe, 100 miles southeast of the Kerguelen islands, sailing across the plateau between this French island group and Heard Island.
They had gybed two hours prior to the incident and as the wind had decreased they had thrown out the reefs in the mainsail but were still under small spinnaker. Ellen says the sea had flattened which had been a surprise sailing across the relatively shallow waters of the plateau. "The boat was sailing fine – there were no problems at all," she commented.
Ellen says the boat was by no means overpressed. "We had the spinnaker up so we were sailing very deep. I had spoken to the guys about five minute before - the breeze had gone down to 22-3 knots which was way too light for the spinnaker but we decided to stick with it. Then the breeze began to increase to 28-33 knots and then I said to Neal over the intercom, "how do we feel? The sea temperature has come up one degrees" which can often mean more breeze, and he said, "no it's great, the sea's flat..."
The mast broke in two places and fell forwards and to leeward over the top of the port daggerboard, but at present it is a mystery why this occurred. "As I got up on deck the only thing left standing were the four guys on watch - thank God" commented Ellen. "From what the guys say the rig folded up in some way high and collapsed over the leeward daggerboard, but other than that we don’t know any more."
No one was injured in the incident but the dismasting punctured the port hull above the water at the bow as it was cut away. With master boatbuilder Jason Carrington on board, the hole was swiftly repaired.
It is likely that the top breakage is what caused the mast to come down and the bottom breakage where the mast struck the deck.
At the start of her first attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy last year the top of this boat's mast broke. It broke again when the boat was on a delivery trip to La Ciotat last summer. The mast was new for this round the world attempt.
The mast was made from M46J carbon fibre - ie not high modulus - believed to be the reason for the spate of dismastings in the 60ft trimaran and Open 60 classes last year.
"So far we had to think of the safety of the boat so we got rid of the major part of the rig and cut away the sails," commented Ellen of what may have been the cause. "To clear the boat of away the debris we managed to put her downwind. With regards to what happened - we don't know. It was dark, it was the middle of the night, there was not much light from the moon, it was cloudy, so with regards to what happened no one knows, beucase conditions were too difficult to see and when you aren’t expecting something like that, it is hard to say this or that happened."
The incident was made all the worse because at the time the conditions were settling in for Kingfisher2 to be able to make some good mileage and they were ahead of Orange's record. It was their break.
"I’m gutted. The guys are also gutted," continued Ellen. "There have been fewer jokes flying around than normal, although I’m happy to say everyone has handled it surprisingly well. We are completely and uttered gutted. We are disappointed, we are stunned it has happened.
"From a record point of view, in the last 48 hours things have really started to look up for us. We have had better conditions, we’ve touched the new breeze, yesterday was a good day, the day before was our first day when we set off ahead of this little depression. We were ahead of the record. Geronimo has been slowed by the light airs off the east coast of Brazil. We were absolutely in the ball park. It’s been tough, emotionally tough for everyone, we haven't had the luck in the world particularly on the weather front. I think that has been a great credit to the guys to have stayed so motivated through everything that we have had – because it has been difficult, we have been a long way behind the record, but no one has given in.
"And just when things were looking up, and we were saying it is okay now, let’s just just sail the boat and get some good averages – just when that happened this broke and we are all left with a big question mark."
To get rid of the rig over the side took around 25 minutes. The crew salvaged the 10m bottom section of the mast. They waited for an hour in order for it to become light. They then spent around three hours erecting a jury rig using the boom as a makeshift spar.
"We lifted the boom, using all the ropes that we managed to save," described Ellen. "We saved as many ropes as possible from when we cut the rig over the side. We lifted the boom luckily without having a major framework – we were concerned about lifting the boom with an A frame, but we managed it. We lifted the boom vertically, stayed that with the two runners. We’ve got forestay and we set the storm jib on the forestay and we have the staysail flying out from the side of the boom/mast. And we’re sailing about 110deg true at the moment."
Kingfisher2 is currently making 7-10 knots towards Perth in Western Australia, some 2,000 miles away which Ellen says she expects to reach in 1-2 weeks according to the conditions. They will not be requesting assistance.
Ellen has not committed to whether or not they will make another attempt on the record. If they do it will certainly not be this year.
In a completely unrelated incident, about two hours before the dismasting Ellen managed to severely slash her left hand open.
"I split my hand open about 2-3 hours before the rig went over in a gybe," commented Ellen. "We gybed over on a particularly big wave and I was on the traveler and the traveler burned on to the drum. And as it caught up the tension it stuck on the drum, so I took one turn off to try and get it to move and it didn’t. So I put a turn back on the drum and banged the rope with a winch handle to get the rope to turn on the drum, leaving a little bit of slack in two turns and it eventually did shift, but because the rope was burned it was shiny and it just spun off and the traveler went down the final half of the track down to the end stop and the rope spun out of my hand because I couldn’t hold on it and it pulled my little finger away from the rest of my hand – rather hard. Which actually split it away from my other fingers. It ripped between my little finger and my other fingers, which was quite deep and quite painful, because my finger bent a lot further than it was supposed to. And I was in the very kind hands of Kevin who stitched me up."
These comments were accompanied by sounds of disgust and members of the press fainting...
"It's a bit sore, I've got to have my stitches out in about a week. I'm sure it'll be just fine."
To hear the audio from the crew - click here.
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