In the Vendee Globe, despite losing his keel with 2,000 miles to the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) has not abandoned and is working out what to do next. 'The competitor and the sailor do not agree,' Dick said. 'Should I continue in a degraded state or abandon and go and hide in the Azores.'
Dick described what happened on Vendee Globe TV: 'It happened a little before midnight,' he said. 'There were already noises in the boat, rather strong and quite screeching. I thought it was the sound of keel jack but in fact the head of keel was already damaged. All of a sudden there was a popping noise. Fortunately, I was between the outside and inside, there were several squalls and then there was a new squall happening. The boat was lying on its side in a second I realised that the keel had broken. I was able to quickly get to the mainsail winch to ease the mainsail a little. The boat began to luff and went down quickly on the water. There was certainly a moment of doubt about the boat, luckily it did not flip over. After a few minutes I was able to ease the solent (sail) and furl it. The boat was safe enough to put in more ballast and take a risk and further reduce the canvas.
'It is a shame to lose the keel at this stage of the race. About the outcome, I do not know yet, we'll see what will happen if I continue running or not. Currently, I am still in the race, I did not give up. The mast is there, as are the sails, the boat floats and I took a little advice from a specialist in the field, called Marco (Guillemot). I called him and he gave me some tips. For now I have a lot of ballast filled in my boat and I think I'm in good conditions. The boat is safe enough not to capsize if there is gust of wind. It is always impressive is true but the boat always moves between 11 and 12 knots. We are going at least to the Azores at first.'
Marc Guillemot rewrote the rulebook and received a hero’s welcome at the finish after losing his keel with 1,000 miles to go. But like Dick, Roland Jourdain, was further from home, headed to the Azores and retired after losing his keel whilst clear in second place in the last edition in 2008-09.
Dick was still making good speed in the third place and continuing on his normal route in 16-18 northeasterlies, 200 miles ahead of Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss). But the challenge will come if he is faced with bigger winds and particularly rougher, cross seas, that he could face, especially in the Bay of Biscay.
The loss of Virbac-Paprec’s keel sparked shock and worry among the fleet and debate about the durability of these IMOCA Open 60 boats. It is not a new debate, but as each generation becomes faster and more powerful and at the same time seeks to pare down the weight, safety is ever more of an issue.
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'A fabricated keel has the life span of oneVendée Globe, period,' Mike Golding (Gamesa) told Vendee Globe TV. 'If it makes the finish it is a design success, if it breaks it is a design failure. Unfortunately we have seen far too many design failures with fabricated steel keels. I championed several years ago changing the rule when I was president of the (IMOCA) technical committee, I tried to change the rule to have forged steel keels, which is pretty much the only way of guaranteeing, well not guaranteeing, but reducing keel fatigue failures like this. Unfortunately the votes missed by three or four votes out of a hundred people, as a result we have still got the fabricated forged and carbon variations. For me I chose to switch to a carbon keel, so I’m on a carbon keel, theoretically if the carbon keel is good, it is good for the life of the boat, theoretically [laughs].'
Golding knows more than most about finishing a Vendée Globe without a keel, having become the first man to do it, in the 2004-05 edition, when he lost his keel with 50 miles to go to the finish line but still managed to finish third. But he did not sound optimistic for the chances of Dick’s more long range position. 'In 2005 I was 50 miles from the finish, my immediate reaction when I lost the keel was that this is the end of it, you cannot sail the boat,' he said. 'But quite quickly I worked out that with ballast I could sail the boat, and even though it was upwind to the finish, in fact it was nearer 90 miles by the time I sailed it, because I had to tack upwind to get to Les Sables d'Olonne, the boat will sail. But I think the real problem is it is quite different being close to the finish like that, and in the position where Jean-Pierre is, he is a long way out and a long way from the finish and the reality is the boat is not very safe without the keel.
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'I think everyone will be looking down in their keel pits and making sure everything is the way, or at least looks the way it should be. The trouble with these fabricated steel failures is there is pretty much no warning, you don’t really see anything, you don’t hear anything, you don’t feel anything, and then right at the end it tends to fail, it tends to release, it bends massively before it breaks. Probably Jean-Pierre mentioned in his report he felt a gust of wind and he went out and checked the sails, the reality is I recall exactly the same experience, in hindsight I don’t think the wind increased at all, there was no gust, the keel was bending and then the bang is when it finally releases. So what happened to JP [Jean-Pierre] sounds extremely similar to what happened to me, I ended up quite confused about why the boat was heeling so much when the keel was seemingly in the right position.'
The skipper with most to gain from Dick’s loss, Alex Thomson, who should move up into third place in the next two days, expressed his sympathy and shock. He also called for changes to the IMOCA class. 'I am shocked and gutted at the news that JP Dick has lost his keel,' Thomson wrote.
'JP has sailed an awesome race and does not deserve this to happen to him. He has worked so hard and maintained his third position despite having to climb the mast countless times. I am thankful that it has happened here and not in the south although JP will have to go through some significant weather to get to the Azores, potentially up to 40 knots on the 26th.
'I never thought we would see a keel failure on this race. IMOCA has of course a history with keel failures but I really thought all those problems were behind us. It will be interesting to review the failures of Virbac and Safran (Marc Guillemot’s boat which lost it’s titanium keel on the first night of this edition), both penned from the same designer (Verdier-VPLP) to see exactly why these failures have happened.
'When I joined the class in 2003, I was a little surprised that I had to change the keel on my first boat because it had exceeded its mileage of 80,000 miles. Since then people have been building keels that last only one round the world race to save a few kilos of weight. I came from the world that a keel lasted for the life of the boat and that is where we need to get to. In 2009 IMOCA brought in some regulations to make keels safer but it obviously has not been enough.
'Enough is enough, the keels need to be made of solid steel and last the life of the boat, before someone gets hurt.'
Francois Gabart (Macif) finally stemmed the trickle of miles to Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). Gabart took back nearly five miles in the four hours since the last ranking and leads by 89.5 miles. In a finish that looks likely to come down to a matter of hours, each mile is significant. Gabart was averaging 15.1 knots to Le Cléac’h’s 14.6, but there are more wind holes ahead as they will not be clear of the Azores high until Wednesday. Dick is 365 miles further back and west.
In the South Atlantic, Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) continued his close battle with Mike Golding (Gamesa), moving back past him into fifth place, but only by four miles. The frustrations and slow progress continue for the unfortunate five in the middle of the fleet.
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Jean le Cam (FRA, SynerCiel): The weather conditions are finally getting better. It’s like going from the MacDonald’s to a three star restaurant. I was dreaming about this moment. But finally when you get these conditions you almost have to force yourself to enjoy the moment. You have to remain humble and enjoy what you have. About JP Dick: unfortunately it’s always the same problem. Now we know that when you go on a Vendée Globe, you have to change your keel every year. But if you don’t have the money, it’s complicated. How can you prevent yourself from the risk? Only with a big budget. So of course, people like the Vendée because of the adventure and the risks. But when things like that happen, maybe we should reconsider the means we put on a Vendée. Regarding the performances, I think the policy is to create the fastest boat as possible. But do we have the means for that? I believe that in four years, our boats will be obsolete. So it’s great when you have good conditions, but the risks are getting bigger.
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Alessandro Di Benedetto (ITA, Team Plastique): A few minutes after manoeuvering, I was able to hoist the main sail - very slowly and with several breaks - because the pain in my ribs was down a bit. I did it to keep the boat stable because the waves were too rough. I don't think it would be a good idea to hoist the small gennaker because it requires velocity, effort and moving a lot, so it wouldn't be reasonable. I think I'm going to need a lot of rest. I'm back with a decent heading and speed. Things are goig better on board.
Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA, Banque Populaire): I’m fine. Some sea, some wind. I manage to sail properly. I’m very sad for JP Dick. As I was saying yesterday: you have to be careful with your materials. These moments are complicated. We are approaching an area with a lot of traffic and it’s going to be dangerous. For me the equation is complicated between preventing the boat from damages and trying to come back on François. It’s a fifth year university equation... Anyway, I’ve to remain focus and vigilant. I think I’ll be in Les Sables on Sunday. But, according to the weather forecasts, the conditions are going to be tough.
Tanguy de Lamotte (FRA, Initiatives-coeur): I’m fine, but unfortunately I broke a halyard again. It was my second one and I don’t have any another one onboard. It’s the first time I’m not able to use all my boat’s capacities. So it’s a bit frustrating. I have tried to prevent the risk by checking the boat every day but obviously it wasn’t enough.
Roland Jourdain (French sailor; former Vendée skipper): I was in the same situation four years ago. You can navigate without a keel if the conditions are favourable with your ballasts. There is about eight tons of water in the ballasts. So it’s possible to sail but as soon as you get harder conditions, things get much more complicated. I was wearing my survival suit all the time, with everything ready just in case. I know what JP must feel at the moment. It’s a very complicated moment.
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Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe - 5:15 PM Tue 22 Jan 2013 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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