The Velux 5 Oceans began with drama and disappointment for some and the leg continued as it began.
Graham Dalton was first to suffer disappointment when, on the Friday before Sunday’s October 20 start, his mast, which was ready to be lifted back into the boat, was blown to the ground in a 60 knot gust of wind, cracking the inboard end of the lower starboard spreader.
American entrant Tim Troy was also excluded from the Sunday start when his yacht ‘Margaret Anna’ failed the final Angle of Vanishing Stability test by just three degrees.
Dalton may have breathed a sigh of relief at his delayed start, when he learned that, within 24 hours, the fleet was being battered by violent winds and three skippers; Mike Golding, Alex Thomson and Unai Basurko were already heading for land with rig problems. Sir Robin Knox-Johnson’s yacht survived longer, but soon he too was making for land and rig repairs.
That left Bernard Stamm and Kojiro Shiraishi storming ahead, but when Golding and Thomson rejoined, both overtook the Japanese and were battling together, for second place when disaster struck Thomson.
This is how he described it: “I was in my bunk grabbing a quick power kip when I was suddenly thrown across the cabin as the boat broached. I ran up on deck and went to ease the mainsail but nothing happened. I then went to try and cant the keel, but again nothing happened. By this stage the boat was leaning right over on its side with the spreaders in the water, so I went back down below to look inside the keel box. The section which attaches the rams to the keel had completely snapped off and the keel was swinging freely. I went back up on deck with the boat still on its side. I took the sails down and finally the boat righted itself.”
It wasn’t long before Thomson realised that his beloved Hugo Boss was doomed. Mike Golding had turned back and rescued Thomson from his stricken yacht, in a difficult operation that took almost two hours.
Six hours later, Golding was also in trouble, when his mast broke in two places, the first just above the main spreaders and the second about 1.5 metres from the top. He and Thomson worked together to set up a jury rig and headed for Cape Town, some 1000 miles away.
What of the rest? Stamm and Shirashai - who finished first and second - had few problems, the others didn’t fare so well. Dalton and Basurko had rudder problems and Dalton arrived with a shredded mainsail. Knox-Johnston had constant trouble with mainsail battens, autopilots and communication equipment.