At around 1530 GMT Saturday, 17th May during the blackout phase of The Artemis Transat, Seb Josse, skipper of BT, called his shore team to report that the mainsail on BT had come crashing down.
After pushing very hard during this phase of the race to take advantage of the positions blackout, a combination of two linked factors, mast track damage and headboard car lashing failure, led to the crucial failure.
Had it been 36 hours earlier in the flat seas and windless zone that BT sailed through, a reasonably fast repair could have been made by Josse, but the top car and the mainsail halyard are at the top of the 28 metre mast and the only way to recover it is to climb the mast and bring it down.
Now the newly installed North Atlantic weather conditions make this an impossibility as a big swell and complicated sea state combined with 20-25 knots of wind on the nose, make any attempt to climb the mast far too risky to both Seb and the boat. Unfortunately, the forecast for the next 5-6 days, in fact through to the end of the race, is for even stronger upwind conditions, and despite a lighter few hours forecast for the end of today, almost certainly a difficult sea state will dominate due to the Gulf Stream. It is the sea state that throws the boat around, and makes the climb to the top of the mast an unacceptable risk at this stage in the programme.
Seb, who was leading the race at the time, has made the difficult decision to retire from The Artemis Transat solo transatlantic race at the halfway stage of the 2,982-mile course. Seb will now look to turn back and head south to try and find a calm enough place to get up the mast and at least re-hoist some mainsail to allow him to sail solo back to Europe in favourable conditions.
'I'm obviously really disappointed for the team, everyone worked so hard to get us to the startline - but to sail very slowly to Boston or divert out of the racetrack to find a place to repair, would put me out of contention in the race. I've learnt a great deal about BT so far, all positive, so I'm heading home very happy about our potential to win in the future.'
Retiring whilst at the front of the race is obviously a major disappointment for Seb and the BT team - only yesterday morning Seb reported to race HQ: 'I've had confirmation in this race that the boat really meets my expectations. Its a very young boat, we put her in the water just five weeks ago and this race is in the programme to see how she goes. I have two objectives, firstly to test the potential of the boat and on this point I'm really assured. And of course at the same time, I won't be upset with a good result. We'll see! With the conditions that are on their way, it's going to be a big test for BT.' Sadly that test is now over.
Ellen MacArthur, Seb's teammate at BT Team Ellen commented: 'We all share in Seb's disappointment - it is never easy to retire from a race. Seb and BT were sailing brilliantly, leading this very tough race, fighting for the lead against some of the best solo sailors in the world. Seb Is a great talent, and despite this disappointment, we're all very confident for the Vendée Globe - both in terms of man and machine.'