If Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) ever retires from sailing he might be able to open a mechanic’s workshop after unveiling the result of seven hours handiwork with his grinder.
Thomson, who was still in sixth place last night, keeping pace with the lead group and 123 miles from Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) at the front, suffered the scare on Saturday.
“I was low on battery juice so I popped the hydro down and went below to see how many amps were going in. At the time I was averaging about 18 knots and I heard a strange noise so went to the door and I could see the hydro (generator) vibrating very severely and getting worse. I realised it was going to break and rushed to pull it up but before I got there it ripped off the back of the boat and did a cartwheel and smashed the starboard tie bar. I was on port tack so the starboard rudder was not connected to anything and I knew instantly that the boat would wipe out. It did, but I managed to get the boat flat and got downwind to roll up the A3 spinnaker keeping the port rudder in the water doing all the steering.”
That’s when the real work started. Between 12 and 12.30pm on Saturday, Hugo Boss was almost stationary as Thomson cannibalised his port rudder bar and started sailing again.
“The bar is a very thin carbon tube about 3m long which was broken in two places, and we do not carry a spare unfortunately,” Thomson said. “Cliff (Nicholson) our composite engineer is a genius problem solver and he came up with a plan with Ross (Daniel) and (Simon) Clarkey which would splint the breaks using carbon strips. I firstly had to cut the strips with the grinder with a diamond cutting blade I have onboard. I was not looking forward to doing it because literally everything would be covered in carbon dust. I cleared the cockpit and got to work all while averaging 19 knots of boat speed. I managed to do it without cutting a finger off or cutting through the cockpit floor. Once I had finished I was covered in silver paint and back carbon dust and the cockpit looked like Cliff’s workshop. The repair sure ain’t pretty but it should be functional and was about seven hours work all in plus some tidy up time. I was pretty knackered but pleased. It has been an amazing team effort.”
© OLIVIER BLANCHET / DPPI / Vendée Globe
There might have been reason to feel jinxed as this Hugo Boss is Seb Josse’s old boat from the last Vendée Globe and Josse was forced to retire to New Zealand in the last race after nearly capsizing and damaging his port rudder.
The fix certainly seemed to work as Thomson, previously better known for his speed than his handiwork, had the best 24 hour speed times in the fleet on Sunday, beating the five new boats in front of them. Thomson can now focus on navigating a path through the Doldrums which are further north than usual. The lead boat should reach them in the next 24 hours.
After securing his keel yesterday Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) reached the coast of Santo Antaö, the most northerly of the Cape Verde islands last night and was still circling (well, closer to parallelograms) this morning. His destination was Mindelo harbour on the Sao Vincente, 20 miles away, which will take him two and a half hours at his current speed. He may be waiting for his team to arrive, most likely on the island of Sal, so he can better communicate with them and see if there is anyway he can find a permanent way to secure his canting keel and continue. But with the Southern Ocean looming he will need solution he can trust and without being able to swing his keel he will be much slower than the rest of the fleet.
Meanwhile, at the back of the fleet, Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski (ENERGA) had doubled back on himself last night as he faces the ongoing struggle with his autopilot. His was making 6-7 knots since last night, but in the direction of Madeira, 400 miles west. It is possible the 39-year-old Polish skipper is just testing his autopilot. He believes it is a software problem. Race rules permit him to download a software patch or new software.
With the Equator 450 miles away and the Doldrums half that, the lead skippers will all be working on their weather charts. Everyone will be watching Armel Le Cléac’h, (Banque Populaire), the leader by 51 miles from Francois Gabart (Macif), to see which way he goes. This will be the first big test of the sailors routing skills. Normally the axiom is ‘west is best’, but getting there is sometimes another matter, with deathly wind holes waiting. The wind is gradually dropping already and Le Cléac’h will have the last of the 12 knot northeast trade winds this morning before it drops off to 8 knots and veers east.
Mike Golding (Gamesa) was the only mover in the fleet yesterday as he edged the three horse race behind the leading group. Golding, the furthest west of the three, passed his old friends and sparring partners Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) and Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), but they are still separated by just five miles.
Ranking at 0400hrs UTC (0500hrs French time)
1 Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), 21,402.5 miles to the finish
2 François Gabart (Macif), +51.4 miles to leader
3 Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) +56.7 miles to leader
4 Berrnard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat), SUI +75.2 miles to leader
5 Vincent Riou (PRB), +101.2 miles to leader