The 20-strong fleet that set off in the Vendée Globe has already been reduced to sixteen and the trauma of this toughest of sailing race continued on the eighth day, with the news that Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) had suffered a broken hydraulic jack in his keel. With a sudden clean break causing his boat to lurch his canting keel was left swinging loose beneath the boat. He immobilised it with ropes but was taking in water where the keel is attached to the boat and is headed to Santo Vincente, Mindelo, in the Cape Verde islands, 40 miles away, at a speed of 5-6 knots. He should arrive on Sunday night.
'I heard a noise,' Beyou, who had been in seventh and was part of the lead group, said. 'I had been sailing without a problem all day long, the boat was going at a speed of 21 knots, and suddenly I felt the direction change. The hydraulic jack is broken, it’s a very clean break, the attachment between the keel head and the jack is gone. The pumps are pumping the water out of the boat. The damaged parts are very sensitive ones, key ones. I turned downwind to limit the damage but water was coming in anyway. I need to find a quieter place to think about what to do. I can’t go faster than 5-6 knots so it should take me 6-7 hours to reach a calmer area off Cape Verde.'
'I talked to Michel Desjoyeaux (Maître CoQ is the old Foncia in which Desjoyeaux won the last Vendée Globe), we’re flabbergasted to see a part like that could break. I need to lock the keel, to make sure it doesn’t move any more. If we manage to lock it in a right position, I’ll be back in the race.
'These parts are so important, there’s a 40-ton pressure on them. We have a lot of people working on it, I didn’t start the race to finish it in Cape Verde, if there’s a tiny little chance to go on, we’ll stay in the race.'
The break has surprised experts within and out of Beyou’s team because the jack is made of titanium and designed to bear weights up to 120 tons while, on Maître CoQ, the heaviest load is 40 tons. The problem for Beyou is that he will not want to go into the Southern Ocean with anything less than a rock solid plan to secure the keel. As it is not being able to swing it – angle it to allow the boat to remain upright and sail a more aggressive angle to the wind - will mean a great loss of speed.
'These ropes won’t hold forever, not when facing weights up to 40 tons every time the boat jolts,' Beyou said. 'They will give me the possibility to reach a sheltered area, not to sail around the world. And every time the boat heels, there is water getting in the boat, as a joint has been damaged when the head of the hydraulic jack broke.'
Respect for the Southern Ocean is what is giving Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski (Energa), pause for thought despite a profitable morning unwrapping his gennaker sail from his J2 and forestay. At one point he was going to have to go up the mast and cut the gennaker away. Saturday night saw him heave to so he could do it in calmer conditions, but he was able to save the gennaker from the deck. However, the software problem in both his autopilots that caused the wipe out remains.
'I went on the bow at sunrise and after two hours hard work I managed to drop everything to the foredeck, so now I’ve got a clear mast without any problems and the gennaker is a little bit damaged but in one piece.'
'I got some luck because I fixed everything from the deck. I am really confused because the autopilot will be in the same situation for the next few days and I don’t really want to fight with the autopilot all the way around the world. I can’t make a decision right now. I need to think. I haven’t slept well. Right now I’m completely stuck, there’s no wind, so I can take a pole and make some good fishing.'
'Going into the Southern Ocean without an autopilot is a completely stupid idea.'
Gutek knows because he has already experienced sailing from Cape Town to Wellington in another race with a faulty autopilot.
'Believe me, I was really close to losing my life,' he said. 'On my last trip around the world I was really close to making the decision to stopping at the Kerguelen Islands I was really desperate. I don’t want to be in the same situation.'
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) has had the best day in the fleet, consistently making the best speeds to close the gap in the leading group of six boats to 115 miles. Despite being the only older generation boat he has been gaining as they drag race south in the north-easterly trade winds and at the 1600hrs (French time) ranking had the fastest 24 hour speed again of 17.7 knots.
With Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) just 570 miles from the Equator, all the skippers thoughts are turning to The Doldrums or le Pot au noir, as the French call the area dreaded by all mariners. They will reach them in less than two days.
This Intertropical Convergence Zone, a kind of kind moveable car park for boats, is a bit further north than usual, at 8-10 degrees north (latitude), so Le Cam’s record to the Equator in 2004 of 10 days 11h 28 min may be safe.
The further south the weaker the trade winds will get and squalls and thunderstorms are forecast.
'I have been able to hang onto the leading group which is excellent considering the speed advantage they should have,' Thomson said. 'I had been pulling out on Maître CoQ, who has been my shadow quietly, but today we find out he has a keel problem. Very sorry for him, I hope he can get it fixed and continue.
'I wasn’t trying to be in a drag race with these boys. I’m just starting to look at the Doldrums in more detail now. We’re all heading in the same direction so I’ll have an idea of what’s going on from the guys in front of me.'
Ahead of him Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) was back up to speed after a slow night and was the fastest, at 16.9 knots, in the last hour before the 1600hrs ranking.
The big winner on Sunday was the oldest man on the fleet, the 57-year-old Swiss sailor, Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), who has moved up from tenth to seventh. Wavre, in his fourth Vendée Globe, slipped past his old friends and sparring partners; Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) and Mike Golding (Gamesa), who have lost time as they joined from east. 'It’s not easy to be fighting with friends,' Wavre said. Just three miles separated the group of three at the 1600hrs (French time) ranking. That group are 230 miles behind the lead group of six at the front.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), GBR: In the last 24 hours we have had the best 24 hour run and I have been able to hang onto the leading group which is excellent considering the speed advantage they should have. I had been pulling out on Maître Coq who has been my shadow quietly but yesterday he starting losing big ground and today we find out he has a keel problem and will stop in Cape Verde to assess and fix. Very sorry for him, I hope he can get it fixed and continue.
I wasn’t trying to be in a drag race with these boys, I’m just playing my own game and really I shouldn’t be as fast as them but somehow I seem to be, things are going right. I’ve got some great sails and I seem to be going in the right direction.
I’m just starting to look at the Doldrums in more details now, but it’s difficult to say what I’m going to do. But we’re all heading in the same direction so I’ll have an idea of what’s going on from the guys in front of me.
I haven’t eaten bacon for five days, the race has been so fast I haven’t had the opportunity to get the frying pan out apart from twice. I’ve got some left but it’s starting to get a bit hot now and I’m going to start worry if it’s going to be good enough to eat - the last thing I need is a bout of food poisoning right now.
Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), SUI: What a great atmosphere here, we left the European winter behind, the weather is great! The temperature is 30°C in the cockpit, I’m having a great time, really enjoying myself. Except for the tough conditions I faced near Madeira. The autopilot has been working all by itself for a few hours now. I'm in a group with Golding and Le Cam, it’s not easy to be fighting with friends.
Javier Sanso (Acciona 100% EcoPowered): I really needed a day like today – calm and fast. I made the most of the day to organise the inside of the boat a little and dry my clothes out. I have used more clothes than I thought I would this first week. I have to do a recount of everything but I think I am going to have to do a little washing with the thermal shirts; I have used four and I shouldn’t have used more than two. I am going to rinse them in some fresh water to get rid of some of the salt or they’ll never dry out.
Mike Golding (Gamesa), GBR: It’s been nice and steady pushing the boat hard under spinnaker and the boat is going well. It is warm, a bit humid but we have 18-22kts of wind and it is fast sailing.
I am looking ahead to the entry to the doldrums which looks like it is about a day and a half away, but we are flying down there at good speeds. I might get the chance to get some miles back there.
I am a bit uncomfortable at the gap there is to the group. It is a bit nerve racking. I’d like to get back with them but I am not going to worry about it at this stage. I am good alongside Jean at the moment, but I kind of feel I’d like to be forward a bit.
I think it is hard to match the speeds that are coming out of the new boats and Alex is very good at piling on the miles in a drag race like this so I am not surprised he is up there. But then there is just so far to go and we all know that a lot will happen. I am not going to get panicked.
I have finished the oranges and I have three apples left. I have a couple of packs of bacon left that I need to probably use. The bread is starting to get a bit crumbly. So the main meal of the day is freeze dried now. To be honest it tastes OK but the thing to do is just not be influenced by what it says on the packet. Don’t believe what it is and just enjoy it for what it tastes like rather than what it should be.
François Gabart (Macif): I'm playing hide and seek with the Cheminées Poujoulat cat, sometimes he's there, and then I can't see it. Bernard is about ten miles away, which is pretty much the range of the AIS, so depending on the waves, I can see it on my AIS (?Automatic Identification System) or not.
Vincent Riou (PRB): The first week of the race hasn't been that great for me, but not too bad either. Nothing is broken, so it's all right. I'm sailing at 17-18 knots, the wind isn't as strong as it used to be. I'm focusing on the Doldrums and how I'll sail through that area. I don't have much to do on board in this quieter moment, so I study the weather forecasts.
Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe - 6:44 PM Sun 18 Nov 2012 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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