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Vendee Globe- Jean-Pierre Dick's dreams shattered with keel failure

by Sail-World on 22 Jan 2013
Virbac-Paprec 3 at the start of the Vendee Globe. She is now sailing with her leeboards to provide lateral resistance, and water ballast to provide stability after the loss of her canting keel bulb. © B. Stichelbaut / Sea&Co

With a third place finish in the Vendée Globe apparently almost guaranteed, Jean-Pierre Dick's dreams for the Vendee Globe Race were shattered with an abrupt bang before midnight on Monday night as Virbac Paprec 3 lost her keel with just over 2,000 of the 28,000 mile race left.

With a squall approaching, the singlehanded yacht risked capsizing after losing the four tonne keel which provided approximately half the weight of the boat and most of its stability.

It took all the experience and expertise of the 47-year-old skipper, Jean-Pierre Dick to avoid the capsize.

He managed to ease the pressure on the sails, turn the boat to run downwind and fully fill the ballast tanks to stabilise the boat. The immediate danger has passed but he is still very vulnerable.

Until losing his keel bulb he was continuing to close on the front two yachts, and still had faint hopes of catching them.

Dick, is still technically in third place on the ranking because he has not retired. He is heading for shelter at the Azores, still over 1,000 miles away on Monday morning, and is on a starboard tack in a northeast wind of 20 knots.

He cannot take a direct route at the moment and must head north-east for two days, but in 450 miles he should pick up some undisturbed south-west wind and will be able to head directly to the Azores archipelago. He is expected to arrive there in six days, which was his projected finish time for the race at Les Sables.

Dick, who hails from Nice is on his third Vendée Globe. He finished sixth in 2004-05 but had to retire from the 2008-09 race with broken rudders after hitting an underwater object.

Dick’s misfortune is part of the thread that runs through the history of the Vendée Globe. There is no good time to suffer a failure but there is something especially cruel about it happening so close to the finish.

In the second edition of the race in 1992-93 Philippe Poupon, in second and chasing the leader Alain Gautier, suffered a dismasting. But Poupon was still able to limp home in third the place.

Roland Jourdain lost his keel bulb whilst clear in second place in the last race in 2008-09 and was also forced to seek shelter at the Azores, where he assessed and then retired.

Already in this race, the North Atlantic claimed two keels in the first two weeks of this race, when Marc Guillemot’s titanium keel broke off on the first night and then Jeremie Beyou suffered hydraulic failure of the canting mechanism and almost lost the whole keel in the second week.

Virbac Paprec 3 was one of the six new boats in this edition and one of the four VPLP-Verdier designed boats.

Many, including Alex Thomson, had said they would be too light and fragile to make it around the world. But that claim has appeared to be incorrect.

Vincent Riou (PRB) was forced out in the second week of the race, in the South Atlantic, after unluckily hitting a harbour buoy that drifted and submerged 500 miles off the coast of Brazil. But the VPLP-Verdier boats have continued to form the leading pack from start to finish, and either MACIF or Banque Populaire, have led for most of the race, setting an unrelenting pace that could smash the old record by a week if they finish in 77 days on January 26.

Dick was dropped by them in the Indian Ocean and soon after made his first of several trips up the mast to make repairs, and he has shadowed the lead group since.

Thomson into third

Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) who could now achieve both his targets of third place and 80 days around the world.

Dick’s sudden failure will have sent a shudder through him, and the entire fleet, and underlined the old Round the World cliché that ‘to finish first, first you have to finish.’

Only yesterday on Vendee Globe TV, Thomson had talked about keeping up the pressure in case one of those ahead had a problem. But he said he would not wish any misfortune on anyone: 'At the stage of the race we’re at now, I would be very sad for anybody who has a problem, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.'

Thomson, is still in fourth place, 236 miles behind Dick, 562 miles behind second-placed Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and 657 miles from the leader, Francois Gabart (MACIF). But he has a huge 1,627-mile lead on those behind him, with Mike Golding (Gamesa), who passed Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) overnight, albeit by only a mile again.

Golding (Gamesa) will understand Dick’s disaster more than most, after losing his keel with 50 miles to go in the 2004-05 edition, where he limped in third after the closest race in Vendée Globe history.

Le Cléac’h continued to erode Gabart’s lead, taking back almost 50 miles in the last 24 hours. The 0400hrs ranking he was 95 miles behind, but Gabart had found the better breeze in the last hour, averaging 15.6 knots to Le Cléac’h’s 11.2 knots.

There was some drama at the back of the fleet too as eleventh-placed Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur), suffered a halyard failure and watched his huge Code Zero sail drop into the water. 'The road does not end, she extendable,' he wrote this morning.

'The second halyard broke and the code Zero has fallen into the sea. I had to change the sail before dark and I visually checked the halyard all the time since and noticed nothing suspicious...I was going to write you a nice email saying that it was a beautiful day with albatross and flying fish: it's nice to have two at the same time. It will be necessary that I go up the mast as soon as possible to return to retrieve the headsail halyard, meantime, I rest and will do it tomorrow.'

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