The Domino Effect
The Domino Effect
When the mast collapses mid-race and mid-ocean, mar mostro’s crew turns its efforts from a race against the fleet to a race against the clock. "Gaining Bearing" from our January/February 2012 issue.
Seven hundred miles from one of the most remote pieces of inhabited land on Earth, we found ourselves accepting green jerry jugs of diesel from the 843-foot, container-topped cargo ship Zim Monaco. In all the scenarios I’d played out in my head before the Volvo Ocean Race’s start, this is one I never imagined.
How did the crew of PUMA Ocean Racing come to be mast-less and adrift in the Southern Atlantic, bumming fuel off a passing ship? It all started on Day 17 of the opening leg, some 4,000-plus miles into the race, and five days out of Cape Town. Mar mostro was surfing along in 20 to 25 knots of wind, averaging speeds in the low 20s. We liked our position, and life was good. All morning it had been a routine of reef, unreef, reef again.
The on-deck watch asked for a hand putting in a reef. Our navigator, Tom Addis, had his foul-weather gear on, so he went on deck to help. I stayed in the nav station, working with the routing software to find a passing lane around Team Telefónica, which was just over 30 miles ahead and in the lead. Once the reef was set, we were off again—until it happened.
The only sound I can equate to our mast breaking is that of a towering tree in your backyard falling during a storm, only the “snap” was as loud as if the tree were in your house, where you could feel the noise resonate through your body.
The boat jerked upright and then heeled to weather because the keel was fully canted. I can still distinctly remember the blood curling scream from Ryan [Godfrey], who was in the pit area, letting us know that, “The *$%&*!# mast is down!”
Now what? We had to quickly assess the damage and determine what would happen if the rig broke free—i.e., would it punch a hole in the boat? I’ve broken a lot of masts in my lifetime, but never in the middle of the ocean. Watch captain Tony Mutter had, and he said to me, “We have to try to save as much as we can, especially the sails.”
So we did, and to be honest, I never thought we’d save everything. We wouldn’t have, if not for the heroics of our bowman, Casey Smith, who jumped into the water with a knife in hand, in order to cut away as much of the mainsail as possible. I would’ve never let him do it if he asked, and he knew that. He’s just another tough S.O.B. who will do whatever it takes at any time. Twice I told him to get back on the boat when he got dragged under while cutting away the webbing on the mainsail’s luff, and twice he came up and smiled at me, telling me he was fine.
Ninety minutes later, every piece of the mast was lashed to the deck, and the main, jib, and staysail were onboard, with only minor tears. The lifelines along the starboard side were mangled, but there were only a few dings on the rail. We were lucky.