In the Vendee Globe, Vincent Riou (PRB) was fighting to stay in the race on Saturday night following a collision with a metal buoy in the night in the South Atlantic. The winner of the 2004-5 edition, hero of 2008-09 and one of the favourites for this race will need all of the skill as one best solo skippers France has ever produced to keep his flickering dream alive.
With no land nearby by which to take shelter - Riou is about 550 miles east of the north coast of Brazil and 450 miles due north of the Trindade Islands – Riou has been forced to make his repairs at sea.
Initially, the one and a half metre tear to his hull, four metres from the bow on the starboard side, looked like the most significant problem, but Riou then discovered that his mast was at risk. After hitting the hull the buoy caught the starboard shroud underneath the outrigger – the carbon cable that supports the mast. In a video of the damage Riou sent to the Race Office, he shows that it is almost severed.
'This morning, around 5am (UTC, 0600hrs French time), I heard a big noise, a huge ‘crack’,' Riou said. I ran out immediately and knew that I had hit something. I stopped the boat and saw the impact. The hole is in the middle and is about 1m 30cm long. I also noticed that the outrigger is damaged. That isn’t good news.
'The buoy hit the starboard side of the hull, this is the first problem and that’s bad, but it’s not the worst. I managed to see the boy because I was the navigation station. It was a huge metal buoy, something you find in a commercial port. Because it was almost submerged it must have been at sea a long time. I think the buoy was half air and half water.
'After the buoy hit the hull it hit the shroud, the carbon cable which helps to support the mast. The only luck I have today is that it is only carbon composite material, so my team and I are analysing the damage in order to find the best way to imagine some repairs. I have sent all the information to my architect and rigging manager. I expect some repair proposals from them.
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'I think I have a good solution to repair the boat efficiently. But it could take a long time because of the weather conditions. It’s very hot and it’s complicated. I won’t be able to repair whenever I want. I am trying to find the best solution and see if I can go on with my race. The Vendée Globe turns on very small details like rubbish you can find on the water.'
The 40-year-old Brittany skipper is famous for his skill and inscrutability but you need some luck to finish a Vendée Globe let alone win one. It these hidden dangers, rogue containers and buoys that are not where they are supposed to be, are what the skippers fear most.
Javier ‘Bubi’ Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered), the Spanish skipper, compared it putting a rock in the middle of a Formula One track.
'I think this is a nightmare in the minds of all of the skippers something like this happening,' Sansó said. 'This is something out of nowhere, this is a like a rock in the middle of a Formula One circuit. It’s something very unexpected and not something you can control, I’m very sad for Vincent. It’s just a matter of bad luck.'
Riou, who had been in third place and part of the leading pack since the start from Les Sables d’Olonne two weeks ago, has borne away from the fleet and making around five knots as if he was heading to the coast of Brazil, 500 miles away. But it is to protect his mast in the 12-knot easterly winds, rather than to head for land.
He has prepared a square layer of carbon and will begin the repairs of the hull today. For the more complicated repair to the shroud he is waiting to hear from Denis Glehen, the owner of gsea design, who designed the mast on PRB and elven other boats in the fleet. Guillaume Verdier, from VPLP-Verdier, the designers of PRB, is working with Glehen on the proposal for Riou.
His knowledge of carbon repairs is probably second to none in the fleet – he was a boat preparateur for Michel Desjoyeaux when he won the 2000-01 edition, before winning in 2004-05. 'If anyone in this race is capable of affecting a good repair I’d imagine it would be Vincent you know, he’s the man,' Mike Golding said.
But Riou knows he is facing the Southern Ocean and he knows how unstable masts can be when the outrigger is not perfectly supporting the mast.
In the 2008-09 edition his older rival, Jean Le Cam, lost his keel bulb and capsized 200 miles west of Cape Horn and it was Riou who turned and reached him first as fears for Le Cam’s life grew. Le Cam had spent 18 hours trapped and brave five-degree water and 12 foot waves to swim to Riou, who got as close to Le Cam’s boat as he dared. In the process Riou is thought to have clipped his outrigger on Le Cam’s upturned keel and just 36 hours later, having continued the race with Le Cam on board, Riou was dismasted after just rounding Cape Horn. He was later awarded joint third place by the organisers.
'When the boat is heeled to 20°, the hole is at the waterline,' Riou said. 'My priority is to find ways to make a solid repair and continue the Vendée Globe safely. I need to be sure to take on the Southern Ocean with total confidence with my boat. The situation is really difficult because there is no land nearby where I might be able to make this repair more easily. It is repairable, but under what conditions and with what risks knowing that I have to go around Antarctica? This is what I'm currently evaluating.'
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): Well, I don’t know too much about it, obviously only what I’ve heard from the team, but making any sort of repair on a boat out at sea particularly one that’s facing the Southern Ocean ahead, proves very difficult and it relies on you having enough kit on board to be able to do that. I understand it’s a sort of metre long tear in a high load part of the boat near the front, it’s a really tricky one, it’s going to be a dilemma for Vincent, but, if anyone in this race is capable of affecting a good repair I’d imagine it would be Vincent, you know, he’s the man.
I had to completely repair one side of my standing rigging on the first Vendee of 2000, I found that the standing rigging was three quarters chaffed through, so I had to completely replace that with rope, I always use rope, that was in the Atlantic coming back up, physically it’s a pretty tough thing to do, but technically it’s not that tough. To be honest, doing a repair like PRB’s relies on having the correct equipment, you are talking about a wet lamination to repair a pre-preg construction, it’s going to be tricky.
It’s going OK, I think for the first time we have actually made some gains back off the leader, so that’s quite encouraging. It’s been a pretty tough time ever since we left the Doldrums we have been suffering from not being able to make the VMGs [velocity made good] to the boats south of us, unfortunately, this has been made worse by the protest. This whole part of the race is going to go down in my book as something to forget!
Francois Gabart (FRA, Macif): The sky is dark and the winds are unstable. It’s a little harder to manage. I’m still going on. I didn’t plan to climb up the mast before I enter the Southern Ocean because I am having no trouble with my manoeuvres So there is no point in doing it. I can’t wait to enter the Southern Ocean, to see how it is. I want to enjoy the moment. But I’ll have to remain very vigilant because I know it can be a dangerous place. I won’t take any stupid risks.
Javier ‘Bubi’ Sansó (ESP, Acciona 100% EcoPowered): On Riou: 'I think this is a nightmare in the minds of all of the skippers something like this happening. This is something out of nowhere, this is a like a rock in the middle of a Formula One circuit. It’s something very unexpected and not something you can control, I’m very sad for Vincent. It’s just a matter of bad luck.'
On crossing the equator last night: 'Since I’m a Spanish I have to do it in the Spanish way with Jamon de Jabugo (pata negra).'
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): The weather is great today, it’s awesome. Earlier I caught some fishes on my bridge. Last night was hard, with some storms, a lot of rain sometimes. I had to work a lot. At the beginning, the race was so intense with all the emotion of the departure. It was hard for me to start my race, after the three weeks in Les Sables d’Olonne. I hope that Vincent will be able to repair and go on.
Bernard Stamm (SUI, Cheminées Poujoulat): I am suffering a little bit. I have still got a problem with one of my hooks (for the mainsail). I couldn’t fix it as I would like. Off Portugal, I damaged one of my hydrogenerators and I did have the time to fix it yet. I plan to climb on the mast once again to fix the hook. Last time I did it, there was a 13-14 knots wind and I had to go very fast. I stayed one and a half hours up there. It’s quite dangerous. I have to wear a helmet because if I get hit on the head it could be a problem.
Venee Globe website
by Vendee Globe - 6:42 PM Sat 24 Nov 2012 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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