Gold medallist boat builders

From the Barcelona World Race, Iker Martinez recounts their daggerboard repair nightmare on Mapfre

Thursday February 10th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Double Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez are world renowned as 49er and Volvo Ocean Race round the world sailors but it is their new found boat-building skills which have helped them hang on to second place in the Barcelona World Race after an epic battle to rebuild as much of a snapped daggerboard as they could.

The Mapfre team revealed this morning that Martinez and Fernandez had hit something and lost 1.5 metres off their port daggerboard five days ago which goes some way to explaining their recent drop in speed.

In his email this morning Iker Martinez recounted: "Here we are trying to pass the Australian barrier in order to only think about New Zealand. Coming behind is a storm that we can hardly avoid and it so strong so we will have to be very careful. We are still fighting with Estrella Damm, which is a few miles behind. They are doing really well Alex and Pepe, steadily advancing.

"These days we have been unable to go as quick and we have felt how they have gained on us all the time. The fact is that five days ago we hit an object, we had already hit things several times but without incident but this time we broke a daggerboard.

"We were sailing on starboard, first reaching and then upwind to pass the ice gate and realised we were missing a piece of the daggerboard. At that time we could not do anything. It was better to sail without a piece of the daggerboard than lift it out, since we had to go through the gate but we immediately started to lose ground to those behind. From the gate onwards, we managed to start sailing downwind and then managed to remove the daggerboard, although neither is ideal for sailing since you are sailing with a hole in the hull but still is probably better than having all the damaged area under water.

"At first glance it was just the tip which was broken, 1-1.5m, a cut in the forward side which was more damaged and the structure had endured more, thus having its deepest part now in the wick (?) was completely free. What a mess! What do we do? You can sort of survive without a daggerboard, without losing too much to Cape Horn but after that.... forget it. Or stop in New Zealand or fix it on board. The first option we didn’t even think about it so: let’s fix it!

"This is easier said than done. First, try and move one of these, about 100 kg and over 4m long, with two people. Sailing is complicated enough, but we managed to get it out and lean it on the windward side to work on it there.

"First we tried to rebuild it as much as possible so as we could save as much useable daggerboard. We used the foam from the helm seat to rebuild the front and so we can use most of the daggerboard to the deepest part of the spar (main carbon box section round which the daggerboard is built). The aft side was much better.

"Then we had to cover the ‘hole’, because the daggerboard is hollow and therefore had to cover over the bottom open part. Hence we had to make the form as hydrodynamic as possible, although it was impossible to match the original form, which is the ideal one.

"All this was quite quick, like a couple of days after the collision, not sleeping too much (since the only times that you can do anything extra every day on the boat is during the sleeping time). The daggerboard is already looking better. But the laminating was another story. By then the boat was already full of stuff everywhere: the sand paper, resins, glue, rags ... a disaster area.

"Just what you never want to have on a boat and also those who are catching, catching from behind of course, and you're concentrating on something else!

"We didn’t see ourselves capable of moving the daggerboard, so we decided to laminate there. We laminated it as well as we could, but you can imagine ... it was wet, the boat was beating, the wind, and worrying that the cloth is moving, etc.

"Finally we finished and decided to cover as much as possible throughout the area we worked to not get wet and see the next morning if it was dry. At night, the temperature was about 5°C outside and 20 knots of wind. We started to stick the bow onto waves and the next morning the daggerboard was wet, the resin did not dry! What a disaster!

"We then decided to try to move the daggerboard and to be closer to the entrance of the cabin and try to protect it there, but we were in a hurry because we were sailing on port and in a day and a half we would have to gybe at the Australian barrier, and then the wind would be strong again so we would have to get it in before that or it would be impossible afterwards.

"We managed to move it, but hitting it a bit, and got the tip inside the boat but it only improved in moisture. Inside the boat at night was 10 ºC. It was not enough, so we made a small oven by turn the engine on and we managed to improve this area a bit..

"We only had left half a day and the resin still didn’t dry outside. We had to remove some layers that had not stuck but some were looking better, so we decided to start working the shape with other fillers. Obviously we really needed five cans of filler and we only had one, so we were being as careful as possible!

"We managed to make more or less good looking and again the night and the filler that doesn’t dry, what despair! Again engine, oven and all sorts of strange ideas, but we were running out of time and also Estrella Damm was already very close.

"At the end we could take out the daggerboard that was inside the boat, but we had to gybe again because we were at the beginning of the Australian barrier. We gybed and immediately we had 25 knots ....... “ It was impossible to replace the daggerboard with water on the deck! Too dangerous, it could beat us, so we tried as best as we could but to try to keep sailing, with the daggerboard aperture in the water again (the bottom of the daggerboard box).

"Here we checked the weather reports and saw that there was a possibility that the wind did not drop almost to New Zealand, which would be about eight days with a strong storm that we would have to pass. We did not want to go through a storm with the board tied up on deck. If it would let go or break its ties by the sheer force of water, we would lose the daggerboard and possibly it would damage something, so we decided to try dropping it in if there was a moment when the wind dropped to 20 knots. So we prepared everything, hang the daggerboard off a halyard and in a 'quiet' moment stopped the boat as much as we could and reinserted it.

"The operation went very well and we had the daggerboard well place, what a satisfaction! We were both dead, exhausted, empty of power and then came a report where we saw that Estrella Damm was a little over 10 miles astern, but we had managed to repair and refitted it without being overtaken. We were thrilled! We felt like we had won set point!

"So now we could start thinking about sailing again. First we had to recover. Then rearrange and clean the complete chaos around the boat and then we could sail again and try to stabilise the difference with the other boats.

"It's been 24 hours since we got it finished and we’ve managed to get some sleep. The boat is now cleaner and we can return to focusing on the race. We are back fighting with Alex and Pepe, very stable in the mix, and although we have a few days to recover, eating well and sleeping, we need to recover before the storm hits hard, in about 48 hours.

"The daggerboard is not looking as before but it is not bad. For us it is a success having been able to fix it on board and now to speed up, because Alex and Pepe are giving everything to try and pass us as usual."

While Martinez and Fernandez fight off the attack from Estrella Damm just in time, so too Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos have held off the advances of Hugo Boss. Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak made only one mile on the girls in the five hours to 1400hrs UTC this afternoon, but were just seven miles behind. 

After their technical stop in Cape Town, Central Lechera Asturiana may be ready to move up the leaderboard too. Juan Merediz and Fran Palacio are just 17 miles behind We Are Water.



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