A temporary repair
Day 53 - 0808 GMT, 24 April 2002
Orange position: 01deg 08S 22deg 36 W
Distance covered in last 24 hours: 515.54nm
Compared to Sport Elec record in 1997
Position: 30deg 24S 35deg 25W
Distance covered in 24 hour period: 296nm
Orange is 1,706 nm further down the track than Sport Elec
After the drama of the past 48 hours and the discovery that the titanium ball upon which her mast sites is severely cracked, the crew of Orange have been working to come up with a solution.
Following his initial revelations about the damage Peyron has shed a little more light on the exact nature of the problem. "The titanium ball some 12cm in diameter bearing the 1,200kg load of the mast and rigging is cracked over a circumference of 170 degrees. Compression here sometimes exceeds 60 tonnes. If the ball breaks, the mast will come down." The crew had apparently suspected there was a problem for a few days as the mast had been making alarming noises whenever it was rotated, but it was only after it had been inspected by Ronan le Goff, the boat's mechanic and rigger and Yves le Blévec, a specialist in composite materials, that the extent of the damage was revealed.
Peyron and his team have been working with Gilles Ollier, the designer and builder of Orange and his no.2 Yann Penfornis to come up with a solution. Following Ollier and Penfornis' suggestions Le Blévec has created a carbon fibre cowling which fits around the bottom of the bearing and extends down to the deck (see below)
"We have created a coupling to support the ball just in case the part gives out," explained Le Blévec. "We have had to wait until the boat was sliding along nice and dry in the trade wind before being able to build and position this clamp at the mast's base." He added "this repair will not prevent the ball from breaking, but it should stop the mast tumbling down!"
Peyron says they are still uncertain of why the breakage occurred. "We'll only know what lies at the origin of this crack once we have been able to X-Ray the part back on land. What we do know though, is that the grease pump which is supposed to grease the area of friction between the ball and the shell at the mast's base automatically has not been working for the last week. Ronan Le Goff had to call upon every ounce of ingenuity to unblock it. Together with Yves' repair, we are able to keep going but our route will be longer, albeit more comfortable for the mast - which does not necessarily mean that we are going to sai! l more slowly, quite the opposite...
It is believed that Le Goff was able to clean out the grease system using the compressed air from the diving bottles, followed by some WD40 and then was able to regrease the bearing.
"When we set the right sail, we noticed that the rig moves less and that there is less friction on the mast on the ball " continued Peyron. "As soon as we shorten sail in the belief that we are putting the boat under less pressure, the natural bending and twisting movements of the mast make us fear the worst." In other words it is better to keep the pressure on.
A significant moment into the voyage can at 1200GMT today when Orange crossed back into the northern hemisphere. Ahead of them is the Doldrums and the possibility that the boat will be slowed up, but they are worried more about what lies before them in the North Atlantic. Once through the Doldrums they will be out into the north easterly trades and so to get back to Brest would require going on the wind.
Peyron has said that they will not sail upwind, particularly with their current mast problems and it is likely Orange will take a long route around to the west of the Azores high.
Fortunately they are still around five days ahead of Sport Elec's record and can afford to take a more circuitous route.
Before - the mast support bearing
After, with carbon collar fitted.