Aviva’s dismasting early this morning has left Dee Caffari battling against strong winds and big seas in the Bay of Biscay with insufficient fuel to motor to the nearest port in northern Spain where authorities have been placed on stand by for an emergency evacuation later today, if required.
Caffari is safe but shaken by the events of this morning when the mast of her ten year-old Open 60 Aviva came crashing down in 45 knots of wind.
She explained from onboard Aviva this morning at 11.00 UTC:
'It was around 6.00am and I was sat in the cuddy in all my gear and wearing my harness. I was going upwind at 8-9 knots with three reefs in and a staysail and the weather was severe. Aviva fell off a wave, landed with a massive bang and crash then shuddered. I jumped up on deck to see the mast going over the port side of the boat. I just thought: Oh my god.'
At this point the mast was banging against the hull of the boat and to avoid serious damage it was imperative to cut the rig away as quickly as possible. Caffari continued:
'I had to work out how to cut the mast free while trying to work out what actually happened. The mast broke just above the third reef and it all fell over to the side. It took an hour and 25 minutes to get the boat away from the damage. I’ve still got a boom and a deck spreader but I have a damaged dagger board and a damaged rudder. I am adrift in the wind. I had gusts of 48 knots and it started to ease but it is now back to 47 knots again with big waves.'
'I don’t really know how I am feeling at the moment – the adrenalin is keeping me going. My hands are cut from using the hacksaw and knives on the rigging but I feel the emotions will kick in later. I feel I’m being stretched to the limit and this is the last sting in the tale.
'I knew the weather was going to be horrible but I didn’t expect 50 knots. I was so pleased to be in the Bay of Biscay within 300 miles of being home so I can’t believe what has happened. There is no good time for a dismasting – it doesn’t matter if you are five miles from the shore or 500 miles from the shore. The fact that it happened in bad weather made it quite difficult but if I am on a learning curve, this is the steepest way to do it.'
The race is now on for the shore team as they investigate their limited options to get Dee and Aviva back to shore safely. Based in Fareham in Hampshire, the Aviva Ocean Racing team are liaising with the authorities in La Coruna and Vigo in Spain, the nearest ports to arrange a tow.
It could be up to 24 hours before a tug reaches Aviva. The team, led by campaign director Andrew Roberts, will also put an emergency helicopter on stand by to lift Caffari off if the conditions get worse. Caffari added:
'We are looking at La Coruna in Spain as our nearest destination some 140 miles away. Hopefully they can get a boat out to tow me back. I don’t have enough fuel to motor and everywhere is upwind at the moment so I won’t be going anywhere fast. The wind is due to ease tonight but my main priority is to get the boat back in.
The easy option is to get off but the integrity of the boat is fine and conditions are set to ease so I might have to be patient because it is in our interests to get the boat back safely. Whilst I could easily be lifted off, there is so much on board that I don’t want to leave.'