If anybody needed reminding, Aucklands Hauraki Gulf is proving again that sailing in the springtime is a testing and sometimes damaging business. This week, the OneWorld syndicate became the first spring casualty when they broke a mast while testing on the Gulf. Sailing the former America True boat with a new Southern Spars rig, the OneWorld crew had just turned downwind when the mast broke below the first spreaders. Two crew went overboard as the mast crashed down and were picked up by the chase boat.
“Luckily nobody was hurt and we are grateful for that,” said OneWorld skipper Peter Gilmour. He said there was no warning as they bore off from an upwind leg. They had not launched a spinnaker and were completing their turn when there was a mighty bang and the rig dropped. Team New Zealand were out in the Gulf at the time, but their two black boats were sitting under bare poles as the wind gusted above 25 knots. They sent a chase boat across to the stricken OneWorld boat and lent them some buoys to serve as fenders to prevent the broken stump from damaging the hull. The New Zealand police launch also gave assistance, but the OneWorld team quickly had the situation under control.
“There is never a good time for these things to happen,” said Gilmour, “but if it had to happen, this is the time. I would much prefer it now than in 12 months.” The morning after the incident, the technical boffins were still going over the rig trying to figure out what had failed. “I think it will probably be some time before we know the answer to that,” said Gilmour. He said the mast was a post-2000 rig that OneWorld was developing.
In terms of their training program, the loss would set them back a day or so as they stepped a replacement rig. However, the weather has already cost them more days than that. As the Americas Cup crews learned at the start of the last Louis Vuitton Cup series, winter surrenders to spring in Auckland with great reluctance and drama. The transition is marked by typically strong and very gusty conditions, with the cold air adding weight to the wind. Breakages were common and many scheduled racing days were lost in the early rounds because of high winds. As the class of 2003 gathers in Auckland for their summer training programs, most have been forced to spend more days ashore than afloat because of high winds.
Considering that the Louis Vuitton series is scheduled to start on October 1 next year, the present conditions provide a sobering warning to designers, crews and event organisers that a torrid baptism awaits. “We arrived on October 3 and planned to get sailing straight away,” said Gilmour. “The boats had been set up in advance and were ready to go. But we have managed to get very few sailing days so far and we are already more than halfway through the month.” Along with Seattle-based OneWorld, a number of other syndicates have already arrived, including the British GBR Challenge and the reigning Louis Vuitton champions, Prada. The Swiss Alinghi Challenge, the Swedish Victory Challenge, and the Oracle Racing syndicate are also expected to train in Auckland this summer.