Portimao Global Ocean Race: Beluga Racer in danger of losing mast

Tuesday, 09 June 2009


Throughout Monday, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet continued to squeeze the best speeds from the light north-easterly breeze with the race leaders Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos keeping a 60 mile advantage over Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme in second place on Beluga Racer. In the 0620 UTC poll on Tuesday morning (09/06), the German team were averaging the highest speed in the fleet at just over 12 knots – four knots faster than the Chileans on Desafio Cabo de Hornos - and had closed down the lead of Cubillos and Muñoz by a handful of miles, trailing the leaders by 55 miles.

In third place, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli and solo sailor Michel Kleinjan on Roaring Forty have been stalled by the light airs with the British duo trailing the double-handed race leader by 220 miles and Kleinjans holding onto the Salvesen and Thomson 117 miles astern of Team Mowgli. However, the pace of the German boat obscures a serious problem on board Beluga Racer with failure of a mast fitting tragically striking the fleet’s overall leaders.

“It was a warm, easy-wind day,” recalled Boris Herrmann earlier this morning. “Only 12 knots of wind from 110 degrees, calm sea and we were flying the Code 5. Felix was off-watch and sleeping, I was on deck when suddenly a dreadful sound came from the mast.” His reactions switching swiftly to overdrive, Herrman leapt into action: “Immediately I rolled the Code 5 to reduce load on the mast, but the noise remained,” he explains. “Somewhat nervously, I looked from all sides at the mast and climbed on the boom in order to get a better look. Through the binoculars I spotted that the upper port spreader was not sitting correctly. I suspected the worst and could not fight off the nerves building in the pit of my stomach.”

Rushing below to wake his co-skipper, Herrmann was already imagining the prospect of a mastless Class 40 in mid-North Atlantic. “Felix pulled me up the mast and it all became undeniably clear,” he continues. “The substantial, approximately 3cm thick, aluminum connection between the spreader and the mast had broken.” Having assessed the damage, a quick fix was vital. “On the second ascent, I carried a hammer and cordage,” reports Herrmann. “I tried to get the spreader back in position again by wiggling it, pulling and hammering, unfortunately without success. Thus, the rig is in serious danger.”

The next step was to secure a Dyneema lashing around the two spreaders bound around the front of the mast in an attempt to prevent both spreaders from detaching from their fittings. Suspended in the harness, his legs growing numb, the gravity of the situation descended. “I cursed loudly,” admits Herrmann, “because it became rapidly clear that this means the end of our race.” The frustration of sustaining this level of damage having completed all but 2,000 miles of a circumnavigation is tangible. Once back on deck, Herrmann and his co-skipper Oehme studied the mast and considered the options. “We have decided to set the mainsail no further than the second reef  in order to limit the risk of damaging the mast further,” says Herrmann. “If the other aluminum fittings in the mast fail, this entire rig could break in a flash.”

While the rig on Beluga Racer is currently safe, the German duo have been analysing the remaining miles of Leg 5. “It is not a very good feeling, sailing like this,” concedes Herrmann. “But so far we are making 12 knots with 20 knots of breeze. What options do we have?” he wonders. “Head to Halifax, Nova Scotia, approximately 400 miles away, or keep running to the Azores or directly for Portugal.” With Halifax due north and upwind, the decision has been made. “Since light winds are predicted, we have decided to keep heading east,” confirms the German skipper. “Felix and I both know Halifax: it is a great place and was the choice of port for the damaged Open 60 PRB during the Artemis Transat. But Horta on Faial in the Azores has a legendary club - the Peter Café Sport - and since Felix has never been there, a pit stop in Horta would be more entertaining and, to be frank, the weather is better!”

The German duo have constantly pushed hard throughout the Portimão Global Ocean Race and the level of competition between Beluga Racer and Felipe Cubillos and Jo sé Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos has been intense. Does the mast damage mean Herrman and Oehme will admit defeat? Unlikely: “Three hours after the event we softened  the disappointment with a bottle of Becks,” says Herrmann. “For us, we can only hope that the weather stays fair and we can trim effectively  and make fast progress to Portimão and – if possible – reach the finish before Felipe and José.”

by Oliver Dewar

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 June 2009 )