The expected southwesterly gale off the Tasmanian east coast and in Bass Strait this morning has impacted the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet.
Bill Wild’s Queensland Reichel Pugh 55 Wedgetail was dismasted at about 0400 south of Tasman Island; James Cameron’s 35ft NSW yacht Luna Sea from Drummoyne lost its rudder at about the same time 53 miles east of Flinders, the leading British Clipper 70 Henri Lloyd, skippered by Eric Holden, lost its rudder bearing east of Cape Barren Island at 2211 last night and has retired, heading for Hobart.
Wedgetail was in the process of rounding the lighthouse island and making for Cape Raoul when the rig came down.
Wild recounted the incident: “We talked the whole race about where the winds were going; we set ourselves up to come around the corner at Tasman. We were well set up before the front came in, we were in good shape down the coast; we trucked along and knew what was coming around the corner.
“The wind was 30 knots. I haven’t seen it that bad in Storm Bay. It just went bang. It was pretty rough out there. We had three reefs in the main and a number five headsail up, on starboard tack.
“I was just coming up actually, a four o’clock shift change. There’s a lot of noise anyway on the boat. Then the bang. The rig, when it goes down it goes down. We had to cut it away of course; it took about 20 minutes, half an hour.
“You’ve got to be careful, the guys did a good job, went about it properly, did all the bits, one at a time, the boat was safe the people were safe, that’s the main thing.”
Wild said there were other boats around them, but Wedgetail did not call for assistance. “It was good to see them there. We were looking around to see who was there in case we needed them, but we didn’t.”
Navigator Adrienne Cahalan has lived through a dismasting three times now – on Elle Racing in 1996, on the catamaran Royal & SunAlliance mid-Southern Ocean during the all-female attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy in 1998 and now in this race. Every time it comes as a shock:
“We were having a really good race with Victoire and Patrice, we knew what was coming and were well set up, well prepared and that was the hard bit. We just went off a wave; it was a big seaway out there at Tasman, and a lot of wind.”
The crew on Luna Sea are safe and well. Other boats are in the vicinity. At the time of writing, the police launch Van Diemen was preparing to depart Lady Barron with a midday ETA at Luna Sea.
The Clipper Race Office issued the following statement: “At 2211 local time (1111 UTC) Henri Lloyd informed the Clipper Race Office of its intention to retire from the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race."
Clipper Race Director Justin Taylor explained: “This is due to a damaged rudder bearing which is allowing excessive movement of the rudder shaft. The skipper is making a seaman-like decision to retire and motor sail into the comparatively calmer waters off Flinders Island before altering course for Hobart.
“This is in an effort to prevent further damage to the rudder bearing. The yacht is not in any danger and should make Hobart without any outside assistance.
“We are monitoring the situation and are in regular contact with the skipper.”
Henri Lloyd is currently at the top of the overall Clipper Race leader board, so this will be a big setback to their campaign.