VENDEE GLOBE – The 20-strong fleet that started the Vendée Globe has already been reduced to 16 and the trauma of this toughest of sailing races 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 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 Dejoyeaux 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 loads 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.”