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Estrella Damm, PRB Head for Cape Town with Gear Damage

Last Thursday Jonathan McKee was looking forward to getting Estrella Damm back into the thick of the Barcelona World Race. Now he and co-skipper Guillermo Altadill an en route to Cape Town to hopefully repair a broken rudder. Joining them is PRB, a pre-race favorite that was in second place when the top of its mast broke off.

December 11, 2007
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071210 First Beat McKee

Courtesy Estrella Damm Sailing Team

[BREAKING NEWS: A third boat has been forced to pull out of the Barcelona World Race. Fourth-placed Delta Dore has been dismasted. Both Jeremie Beyou and co-skipper Sidney Gavignet are unhurt and safe onboard and the boat itself is structurally intact.

Moments after it happened, Beyon contacted race HQ with this report. “We have just been dismasted, we have wind from 300°, 25 knots increasing to 35 knots sometimes, and waves not too bad at about 4 metres. We were sailing with one reef in the mainsail and staysail (small headsail). The mast seems to have fallen backwards.”

The boat’s position at the time of dismasting was 47°00 S 033° 25 E, nearly a thousand miles south east from South Africa, drifting slowly at between 1 and 2 knots east. The reason for the dismasting is unknown at this time.

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The skippers have 188 litres of diesel onboard, which will provide approximately 60 hours of motoring, the equivalent of approximately 240 miles. The team are also already studying the options of a jury rig using spare mainsail battens onboard.]

When we spoke with Jonathan McKee last Thursday, he sounded relatively upbeat despite the fact that he and Guillermo Altadill were in seventh place of nine in the Barcelona World Race and more than 800 miles off the lead as the boats entered into the Southern Ocean.

After a difficult run south through the Atlantic Ocean-a product, he said, of too much faith in their weather forecasts, their relative inexperience in the Open 60 class, some mistakes on their part, and some bad luck-McKee felt that things were turning slowly their way. When we spoke to McKee, the team had just doused their largest spinnaker and their Open 60 Estrella Damm was doing 13 to 20 knots under a smaller gennaker and a staysail. The wind was up and so were their spirits.

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“It’s only recently where the wind has equalized and started to turn our way a little bit,” he said. “So we’ve tried to take advantage of the situation where we’ve had good wind and make up some ground and try to prove to ourselves that we can sail the boat as fast as anyone, which I think we have done over the last 36 hours.”
He also noted that there were still 18,000 miles to race and that anything can happen in these round-the-world adventures. His words proved prophetic as by Sunday night, two of the nine boats in the fleet were pointed toward Cape Town with significant gear issues. Unfortunately, for McKee and Altadill, they were on one of those two boats.

The trouble on Estrella Damm started Saturday morning when they discovered the starboard rudder was loose. Further inspection revealed some damage to the rudder. It took them most of the day to repair and then replace the rudder while it wasn’t a perfect solution it seemed to be working well and they charged southwest into the Indian Ocean. A day later, however, they discovered some more significant damage to the port rudder.

“We were sailing along in 30 knots of breeze in big seas, the same thing happened as with the other one but unlike the starboard rudder [damaged the previous day] this time it didn’t swing up in the same way so I guess it spent a longer time in the water,” McKee told his shore team. “The damage is a lot more severe, the shaft around the rudder stock is completely broken (this is the tube that surrounds the stock and holds the two bearings at the top and bottom of the stock together) and appears split horizontally. Is it fixable? We’re not sure, it would require a lot of carbon work, more than we could achieve on board. We’ve made the decision to head to Cape Town and have informed Race Direction team of the Barcelona World Race. We’re 620 miles from Cape Town and we would estimate getting there in around 2.5 days. I think we will get by on one rudder to Cape Town as its predominantly port tack which is good. For me and Guillermo, I think we’re still a bit in shock and we need to think more about it and how we fix things.”

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By Monday morning the team was within 500 miles of Cape Town, South Africa, and anticipating a Wednesday evening arrival. According to McKee’s Monday email, the team had already started discussing their options, should a repair be possible.

“As a team, Guillermo and I have started to discuss where we go from here,” he said. “This rudder situation is a big thing to deal with, especially with the Southern Ocean approaching. We are aware that a stop of 24-48 hours will put us at least 2,000 miles behind the race leaders. I am hoping we can fully repair our rudder system in Cape Town and then get back out and finish the race but Guillermo and I need to agree our next move, so there’s lots to weigh up on the way to Cape Town.”

The biggest problem with being so far behind is that should you run into some serious trouble in the Southern Ocean, there will be no one nearby to offer assistance.

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While it’s hard to put a positive light on their situation, at least there is the possibility their race continue. Pre-race favorite PRB, with Vincent Riou and Sebastien Josse on board, was just a handful of miles off the lead when they lost the top 10 feet of their mast.

“What happened is quite simple to explain,” said Riou, the reigning Vendee Globe champion. “We were sailing at about 20 knots under the big gennaker (and with a reef in the mainsail) and Sebastien and I were down below with the autopilot on looking at the weather conditions, when we hit a wave and heard a crack. We thought we had broken a halyard or something. At no time did we imagine we’d lost the top of the mast. We went on deck and we saw the main sail still in place but the top part of the mast hanging down. It’s finished for us.”

PRB’s retirement leaves Jean-Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall on Paprec-Virbac 2 in the lead. Complete standings are below. For more on the race, www.barcelonaworldrace.com. For more on McKee and Altadill, www.estrelladammsailingteam.com

Barcelona World Race Standings on Day 30

  1. PAPREC-VIRBAC 2 – Jean Pierre DICK / Damian FOXALL – 0
  2. VEOLIA ENVIRONNEMENT – Roland JOURDAIN / Jean Luc NELIAS – 110 (miles behind lead)
  3. HUGO BOSS – Alex THOMSON / Andrew CAPE – 197
  4. DELTA DORE – Jeremie BEYOU / Sidney GAVIGNET – 409
  5. TEMENOS 2 – Dominique Wavre / Michele PARET- 819
  6. MUTUA MADRILENA – Javier SANSO / Pachi RIVERO – 1194
  7. PRB – Vincent Riou / Sebastien JOSSE – 1203
  8. ESTRELLA DAMM – Guillermo ALTADILL / Jonathan MCKEE – 1430
  9. EDUCACION SIN FRONTERAS – Servane ESCOFFIER / Albert BARGUES – 1934
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