Southern Ocean shocker

Team AkzoNobel battles on after ill-fated Southern Ocean gybe damages mast and mainsail.

15 December 2017


Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 challenger team AkzoNobel, currently racing through the Southern Ocean from Cape Town to Melbourne on Leg 3 of the round the world race has suffered damage to the yacht’s mast and mainsail when a gybe in very strong winds and gigantic seas went wrong earlier today.

The gybe ripped the mainsail track from the back edge of the mast, broke several of the mainsail’s carbon battens, and punctured the sail itself in several places. It was captured on film by Volvo Ocean Race on board reporter James Blake.

In the video watch captain Chris Nicholson who was helming at the time describes what went wrong during the gybe.

Despite having to slow down and wrestle the enormous sail to the deck in 45 to 50 knot winds and gigantic waves the international crew of seven men and two women has since been quick to assess the damage and formulate a repair plan.


Working in consultation with the team’s technical shore crew and experts from the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard maintenance facility the sailors have come up with a possible repair scenario to get them back racing at full speed as quickly as possible.

Happily, the mast track is only missing in one place – rather than two, as the sailors had originally feared – after it broke during the windy crash gybe deep in the Southern Ocean close to the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone (AIEZ).

That bit of good news may mean the crew can reattach enough of the track using strong epoxy adhesive to eventually be able to use the mainsail at full hoist.

This afternoon, in winds gusting up to 45 knots and massive rolling ocean swells, part of the crew concentrated on sailing the boat as fast as possible using just headsails, while the others worked on the repairs to the mast and to several of the horizontal carbon battens that stiffen the sail and help it keep its shape in the wind.

A three-metre section of track at the bottom of the mast has been removed, sanded and a repair made to the hole at the top where a locator bolt will be inserted tomorrow when the crew plan to epoxy the track back on. Ratchet straps will then be used to hold the section in place while the adhesive sets.

The sailors will also have to repair the damage to the mainsail and re-insert the battens before they attempt to hoist the enormous sail.

It’s an ambitious plan and one that the team AkzoNobel sailors know requires everything to go perfectly for them to get back to racing at anything like full speed.

“If all that all goes to plan we could be up sailing again at a 100 per cent,” said Chris Nicholson. “But it’s going to take time, and we’ve got to be careful.”

At the 1900 UTC position update this evening team AkzoNobel was in fifth place, travelling at 20 knots, 174 nautical miles behind the leg leader Dongfeng Race Team.

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