Fortunes can change in the Vendée Globe in an instant. On Friday, Vincent Riou, one of the race favourites and his orange-hulls PRB was lying in third place behind Armel Le Cleac'h and François Gabart, and was in contention. "This is the good life" he reported, his yacht having had no technical problems since the start.
But yesterday this all changed when at 05:45 UTC PRB collided with a huge rusty buoy, adrift in the middle of the ocean. This collision gouged PRB's topsides on her starboard side over an area of about 1sqm. Riou made every effort to conjure up a repair, talking with one of his boat's designers, Guillaume Verdier, in order to find a reliable and secure solution which would allow him to take on the Southern Ocean.
Two hours later, during a full boat check, Riou discovered that the lower shroud for starboard deck spreader (between its end of the spreader and the hull) had also been damaged. This cable carbon is a vital piece of rigging and had been damaged over a 50cm length, reducing the support for the mast. Riou contacted the engineer Denis Glehen, who handled the structural engineerig of PRB's mast to assess the damage and consider the possibilities of effecting a repair.
See the video tour of the damage here
While Riou felt it possible to repair the hull and began work yesterday afternoon, the rigging damaged posed a bigger problem. Ashore Glehen and his team looked at possible solutions. Unfortunately, late last night, Riou had to come to terms with the fact it was going to be impossible for him to adequately fix the rigging. With the Southern Ocean ahead the mast would be risk of collapsing at any moment. So this morning Riou has thrown in the towel with the Vendée Globe and has retired.
"Being able to continue the race in a safe state for the Southern Ocean was what prompted my choice," Riou explained. He has since turned the bow of PRB towards Brazil where he will repair his boat. He is heading for Salvador de Bahia 500 miles away, where he should arrive in three days.
"It was a very tough decision to make but it is the most reasonable," Riou continued. "I have had this Vendée Globe as the goal for several years and I put a lot of energy into it. I am deeply disappointed, but especially for my partners, Bouyer Leroux and PRB and Mercedes. PRB has supposed me for 10 years. They give me great confidence. Even if there was little I could have done about this collision and the damage it cause, I cannot help but feel guilty. I felt really good in the race. These boats have awesome potential and I know that the race in the Southern Ocean this year will be exceptional. The bar is very high and I would have loved to be part of that game. I really wanted to participate!"
Jean-Jacques Laurent, CEO of PRB commented: "The whole of PRB is behind Vincent. The race is very much a part of Vincent but nature decided otherwise. This damage leaves a feeling of incompleteness, because Vincent was about to take on the Southern Ocean with great determination. Our heart goes out to him."