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Du grand large à la plage : Toute l’actualité des sports de glisse depuis 2000


No room for error in harsh wastelands

jeudi 7 février 2002

To describe the feeling of breaking a mast, 1200 miles from land, deep in the remotest ocean on the planet is almost impossible. The crew onboard SEB are numbed but resolute. Hopes and dreams are washed over the side with the remains of the rig as it is cut free to prevent it from punching a hole in the hull of the boat.

The crew are clearing the decks and making the best of, what is for them, the most despairing event to have happened in the race so far. But, we must not forget. The Southern Ocean is not a forgiving place. It is the most hostile of oceans, where the seas have claimed lives and not just masts. Carnage is rife in this place and many, many masts have been lost over the years in pursuit of the glory of winning the world’s premier ocean race. It was, very simply, SEB’s turn to make the sacrifice to the Gods of the sea.

Pen Duick VI with Eric Tabarly as skipper began the tradition on the first leg of the race in 1973 - 74, in the middle of the South Atlantic. The mast was re-stepped in Cape Town and the crew just made it to the start of leg two. British Soldier then followed suit with a dismasting of the mizzenmast. After leaving Australia, Tabarly dropped the main mast for a second time, this time sinking it in the Tasman Sea.

Team SEB doesn’t even hold the record Record #sailingrecord for losing the first carbon mast. Heath’s Condor in The Whitbread 1977 claimed this privilege ’78, while Peter Blake was onboard as a watch leader. The yacht had a carbon top fixed to the aluminium bottom section of the mast for reducing weigh aloft. At this time, there was little or no experience with carbon masts and the top section behaved like a whiplash and finally broke off the African coast near Liberia.

The 1981-82 Whitbread saw true carnage with nine yachts losing their masts. Rolly Go finished under jury rig ; La Barca Laboratorio lost her mast and sailed to Recife in Brazil. 33 Export was able to make it to the French territory of Kerguelen Island. The yacht was subsequently put aboard a supply ship direct for Marseilles. Both the Spanish Licor 43 and European University Belgium were dismasted further along the course and both made it safely to Tasmania. The latter was only able to use a spinnaker pole as a jury mast and risked being wrecked in an onshore gale. A rescue plan was put into operation and European University was finally towed into Bicheno harbour by a fishing boat. Licor 43 broke her mast for the second time in a 60-knot gale. Thirteen hundred miles from Auckland, Gauloises III lost her mast and decided to go north to the tropics and Tahiti. The final yacht to lose her mast was FCF Challenger, whose mast broke at deck level between the Azores and England. So far this was the highest number of rig failures.

Peter Blake again lost the rig again on Ceramco New Zealand. New Zealand’s prime hope of a race win came to an end, when on September 21 150 miles north of Ascension Island, under small genoa and a reefed mainsail, the yacht was dismasted. The port intermediate shroud had parted and the mast had broken in three pieces. The crew didn’t give up and they were the 18th boat to finish in Cape Town.

The next race saw the emergence of the modern maxis utilising Kevlar material for hull and sails, which put much more strain on the mast. Atlantic Privateer was the first victim and lost the mast in a southeasterly gale off Cape Town. NZI Enterprise then kept the Kiwi tradition when breaking the mast in two pieces. It took the crew six hours to clear up the mess and head back to the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand.

In 1989 - 90 the figures stayed low. First was Fisher and Paykel under Grant Dalton to lose the mizzenmast on the way to Punta del Este in Uruguay. The most spectacular dismasting happened at the restart in Auckland when The Card’s mizzenmast hooked the masthead of a 28ft cruising boat and pulled her horizontal, and ripping the mizzenmast out of the boat within hours of the start. It was salvaged by a third party and later shipped to Punta. The Card sailed on as a sloop.

On the last leg, Steinlager came as close to disaster as possible. After winning every leg of the race, the steel chain-plate that held the mizzen and main masts broke, and only the quick reaction of helmsman Brad Butterworth, who crash gybed the yacht, saved the masts and the victory of the red ketch.

The 1993 -94 race saw the emergence of the 60 footers and only one mast was lost. This time it was the leading yacht, Tokio, who put the mast over the side of the boat in reaching conditions off Brazil after a convincing performance over the course of the race under Kiwi skipper Chris Dickson.

By 1997-98, the racing was becoming closer and closer, with every boat pushing hard to break records and win legs. Gone were the restrictions of allowing only fractional spinnakers to be flown in the Southern Ocean. This time, the W60s could carry much more sail, and fly spinnakers from the top of the mast. The girls, onboard EF Education were the first victims, damaging their rig badly on the leg from Auckland to Brazil and having to sail conservatively in order to preserve it. Meanwhile, Lawrie Smith, pushing Silk Cut to the limit, went too far and the top section of the mast collapsed whilst spinnaker reaching in 30 knots of breeze at night. They jury-rigged and raced on for some days before retiring from the leg some 870 miles from Cape Horn and using their engine motored into Ushuaia to effect repairs.

The wind gods finally stopped smiling and after nursing their stricken yacht for nine days, the girls fell victim in 35 knots of wind and lost the mast between the first and second sets of spreaders. They finally retired from the leg 34 days after the start of the leg. Skipper Christine Guillou said, "Everyone onboard is bitterly disappointed. We gave it our best shot, but we have to be realistic. It is a very bad feeling to retire. We hope that our fortunes change."

There are still many miles ahead for the crews in the Volvo Ocean Race and drama and destruction can lie in wait for any one of them, just around the corner.

Volvo Ocean Race Position Report, Day 12, 1554 GMT

PS Yacht Latitude Longitude DTF CMG SMG TFHR DTL DTL-C ETA PO
- 1 ILBK 59 17.40S 094 58.68W 03158 114 16.0 327 00000 +0 18 FEB 02 29
- 2 AONE 59 04.52S 095 50.64W 03184 107 17.1 No Data 00026 -12 18 FEB 02 25
- 3 TYCO 58 58.24S 096 05.08W 03192 105 18.1 346 00034 -18 18 FEB 02 18
- 4 AART 59 15.00S 097 36.20W 03238 096 17.7 380 00080 -16 19 FEB 02 20
- 5 DJCE 59 13.64S 098 00.12W 03250 097 18.6 390 00092 -24 19 FEB 02 14
- 6 NEWS 57 53.04S 098 14.28W 03264 100 17.9 429 00106 -25 19 FEB 02 19
- 7 TSEB 58 06.76S 105 29.44W 03490 085 05.4 272 00332 +56 19 FEB 02 13
- 8 ATOO 58 53.60S 110 15.12W 03628 111 13.4 327 00470 +10 20 FEB 02 6

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