Just 40 minutes after starting Leg Four of the EDS Atlantic Challenge from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, race leader Roland Jourdain's Open 60 Sill Plein Fruit was dismasted. Her 85ft carbon fibre wingmast folded up at the first spreader and then crumbled above the mid-section before breaking at deck level and tumbling into the water.
The crew scrambled around trying to lash the broken pieces to stop it from damaging the hull, doing their best to recover from the shock.
The dismasting was a bitter blow for skipper Roland Jourdain. Sill Plein Fruit had taken an early lead in Leg Four and was leading overall in the EDS Atlantic Challenge having won the event's first two legs when the dismasting occurred.
To add insult to injury, the conditions were quite benign with only 10-15 knots of wind blowing, and the beginnings of a short, choppy sea rolling in from the east. It is not clear what broke first, and an investigation might take weeks. However the speculation is that the mast might have been weakened when Sill Plein Fruit lost its forestay on Leg Three.
Spectator yachts immediately gathered to lend assistance and some local sailors joined the yacht's crew in the water to help untangle the rigging which had snagged the appendages under the yacht. Soon after Sill Plein Fruit took a tow from a press boat while waiting for a tow from an official emergency vessel. They were taken into Norfolk, Virginia to assess their options. There were no injuries on board.
Leg Four started at 16:00 local time (20:00 GMT) from Norfolk, Virginia. At the first turning mark off Cape Henry, Kingfisher with Nick Moloney in command now that Ellen MacArthur has returned to the UK, held a slim lead over Mike Golding's Ecover and Gartmore skippered by Josh Hall, with the all-female team aboard AlphaGraphics just a boat length behind. This leg finishes in Boston, Massachusetts 500 miles away.
This morning Sill's shore manager Vincent Borde said that at present they still haven't uncovered why the rig broke, but they have managed to recover all the pieces and will be investigating after skipper Roland Jourdain has had some rest.
For more photos - see page 2...