Team Tyco has surrendered its place at the front of the fleet to Assa Abloy and is retreating to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with its emergency rudder mounted on the transom. The devastating turn of events onboard Tyco started Wednesday evening in the Southern Ocean, four days into the leg, when the boats rudder stock began failing. Tyco skipper Kevin Shoebridge told race organizers via satellite phone that after hearing a loud “bang” from the back of the boat, the crew inspected the rudder and realized that some of the carbon tape on the front of the rudder shaft had let go. They attempted to reinforce the rudderstock, but the situation worsened, giving Shoebridge little choice but to drop his sails, mount the emergency rudder, and head for port, some 650 miles to the north.
“We heard another bang, much louder,” he said. “Now the rudder shaft is very close to sheering off. The shaft has become very unstable with no sideways support and it looked as if it would basically just snap.”
Later, as he and his teammates watched the fleet sail away at 25-plus knots, he added, “Its nearly been 24 hours since we first started having problems and reality has set in as we limp north. We have the situation well in hand and are sailing under genoa staysail.”
Tycos misfortune was Assa Abloys gain as the new front runners enjoy Southern Ocean sailing. Neal McDonald and Mark Rudigers golden 60-footer had been pushing Tyco for days after recovering from a poor start and finally shed the black cloud that has hovered over them since crossing the Equator. Many consider Assa to be the fastest boat in the fleet, and now that theyre in a comfortable tactical position, theyre hoping to use their speed advantage to make small, steady gains.
“We were shocked and truly sorry to hear about Tycos broken rudder,” wrote Rudiger in an e-mail to race headquarters today. “They are one of our favorite competitors and were well positioned at the time. This is when this race can be cruel and harsh. There is a delicate balance between keeping the boat and crew intact, and going the fastest. And even when executed perfectly, stuff happens.”
In the same correspondence, Rudiger hinted that his boat was taking a beating as well in the wild and cold surfing conditions as they set a new 390-mile 24-hour record run for the leg. “This is, as expected, becoming a bit of a boatbuilders race as well,” he wrote. “Jason [Carrington] is seen coming and going all over the boat with a caulking gun and tools day and night stopping leaks and fixing little things here and there. The latest sizable slow-up was when the windward carbon steering wheel broke. This cost us several miles on the fleet, but we are holding again now. It is quite difficult in these conditions steering from the leeward wheel. We pulled the broken wheel off, put in the emergency tiller, moved the port wheel to the starboard side, and Jason has just finished rebuilding the broken wheel. As soon as the repair has cured, which may take a while in this climate, we should be back in full swing with both.”
Assa is ideally positioned for the short term, holding the middle lane while Knut Frostads djuice dragons and Gurra Krantzs Team SEB have positioned themselves to the north and south respectively of Assa. At todays 1600 GMT position report, SEB was only 18 behind Assa and djuice 21. Both teams have reputations to uphold after dismal finishes in Leg 1, and both are enjoying their view of the fleet. “Everything is better than being last and parked,” wrote djuice trimmer Aarve Ross today, “as we often were on leg one. The boat feels good and I can hear the guys on deck working hard to push the boat (reading steady 22 knots boat speed on our GPS in nav station), which is fun when youre at the top of the fleet.”
Grant Daltons Amer Sports One is not far off the pace, however, and just as in Leg 1, theyre stalking the leaders, awaiting an opportunity to make their move. Amer One is positioned approximately 100 miles south of SEB, expecting more breeze there in the coming days. “The fleet is now set up not very far apart and now its somewhat of a drag race, certainly for the next day or so, before we get onto spinnakers and then hold on. Im happy with our position in the south at this stage. I guess our strategy must seem a bit obvious these days.”
illbruck, which has had a tough time recovering from its near sinking earlier in the week, has passed the girls on Amer Sports Too to move into fifth, 43 miles behind Assa. Sixth-placed Team News Corp, now paying dearly for its westerly flyer, is the southernmost boat at 46 degrees, and praying for a Southern Ocean miracle to help them reduce their 56-mile deficit. “Waiting for the sked is stressful, but in particular for us being a little out on a limb in the south,” wrote Ross Field last night. “I have kept questioning myself – is there more pressure down here? Is there a better angle here? Shall we dive north at pace and take the gain and fall in behind? Have we got the right sail on? Im sure the crew has had enough of me questioning the angles they are sailing and the sail they have up. Poor Nick White has gone to bed because I hound him re the weather and constantly question him about movements in the fleet in particular–why is illbruck crossing the back on the fleet and heading more south?”