Photo: Vincent Curutchet/DPPI

Racer versus seaman

De-keeled Virbac Paprec 3 skipper Jean-Pierre Dick considers whether to retire or nurse the boat on?

Tuesday January 22nd 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Reached by phone this morning, Jean-Pierre Dick described sailing conditions on board Virbac-Paprec 3 following the loss of her keel during the night.

The skipper from Nice is faced with an important decision: to continue the race in 'damaged' mode or retire from the Vendée Globe and take shelter in the Azores.

“I fear that the racer and the sailor will not agree”, said Dick. “Without a keel, the boat has become a huge windsurfing board without great stability. For the moment, I do not feel in danger. I have filled the windward ballasts to balance out the boat. Everything is in good order. I have put the two rudders in the water. There is no immediate risk to me. I also have set up a centreboard to control where I'm going. There's time ahead of me before tacking or gybing. I am going to think about the various solutions.”

Morale
“I am still busy trying to make my boat safe. I am well, in spite of a pain in my sides. I slept a little so that my thoughts would be clear and I set the boat in order. I am conscious that I will be faced with a difficult choice: that of continuing the race or that of limiting the risks to the boat. There is a choice to be made between stopping and continuing sailing with a handicap."

A huge disappointment
“For the moment I have not studied the weather. “I will make a decision quickly, but I fear that the race and the sailor will not agree! It is a huge disappointment. A 3rd place was within sight of my bow and waiting for me. I have worked for 4 years in the hope of finishing on the Vendée Globe podium. It is not over yet, I have not given up. Nevertheless, it won't be easy to sail 2,000 miles without a keel! Sailing without a keel is like playing the flute without hands.”

In the Vendee radio vac today Dick shed a little more light on the incident itself: "It happened a little before midnight. There were already noises in the boat, rather strong and quite screeching. I thought it was the sound of the keel jack, but in fact the head of keel was already damaged. All of a sudden there was a popping noise. Fortunately, I was between the outside and inside, there were several squalls and then there was a new squall happening.

"The boat was lying on her side and in a second I realised that the keel had broken. I was able to quickly get to the mainsail winch to ease the mainsail a little. The boat began to luff and heel. There was certainly a moment of doubt about the boat, luckily it did not flip over. After a few minutes I was able to ease the solent (sail) and furl it. The boat was safe enough to put in more ballast and take a risk and further reduce sail.

“It is a shame to lose the keel at this stage of the race. About the outcome, I do not know yet, we'll see what will happen if I continue or not. Currently, I am still in the race, I haven't given up. The mast is there, as are the sails, the boat floats and I took a little advice from a specialist in the field, called Marco (Guillemot)! I called him and he gave me some tips. For now I have a lot of ballast filled in my boat and I think I'm in good shape. The boat is safe enough not to capsize if there is gust of wind. The boat is still sailing at  11-12 knots. We are heading towards the Azores first."

Roland Jourdain, who's Veolia Environnement lost her bulb in a similar part of the ocean to where Dick advised today: "I was in the same situation four years ago. You can navigate without a keel if the conditions are favourable with your ballast. There is about 8 tonnes of water ballast in total, so it’s possible to sail but as soon as you get harder conditions, things get much more complicated. I was wearing my survival suit all the time, with everything ready just in case. I know what JP must feel at the moment. It’s a very complicated moment."

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