Canadian skipper is dismasted and his boat 'badly damaged'

The last boat in Around Alone was dismasted yesterday in the throes of rounding Cape Horn. Derek Hatfield, the former Canadian Mountie sailing his Open 40 Spirit of Canada, suffered conditions for which Cape Horn is infamous: huge seas piling up in the shallower water and winds gusting to 80 knots. Hatfield was 30 ENE of Cape Horn and in 40ft seas, with an intense squall reportedly passing to the south at the time his mast collapsed.

In a satellite telephone report to race HQ, Hatfield said that he had cut his rig away, but not before his boat had been badly damaged. “Not only is the mast gone, but the boat is badly damaged. The stanchions are gone. I have lost hatch covers and my generator is not working. I have also lost much of my communications equipment.”

As he was talking, Hatfield’s canting keel, the mechanism of which failed a few days ago, was moving and the boat was repeatedly being knocked down. However, he has said he is motoring for Ushuaia, one of the nearest large towns, and that he does not require assistance.

A dismasting is a disaster for any racing skipper, of course, not to mention a huge challenge for a single-hander. But to Hatfield, this is a crushing blow. Professional sailors often have spare masts, or big shore teams to make arrangements to rent a substitute. Witness Graham Dalton, who has just been towed to shore by the Argentine Coastguard, and whose team is busy sourcing a replacement for the rig he lost last week.

For Derek Hatfield, the situation is very different. He is one of the Corinthian sailors in the event, who has had to work harder to be here, and for longer, than any of the professional sailors. Everything Hatfield has is in this boat; he gave up his job and sold his house to sail in the race and his boat represents years of work by himself and his friends. There is no spare mast, and despite the tag Open 40, there really is no developed or homogenous class of this type: these boats are absolute one-offs.

What makes it particularly rough justice is that Hatfield is a first class seaman, who has sailed a superb race. But although it is hard to imagine how he could manage to carry on, it is equally hard to imagine him giving up.

This poignant report was sent this morning by fellow competitor, Bermudian hotel manager Alan Paris, who is also sailing an Open 40 and who was knocked down several times as he passed Cape Horn a day before Hatfield:

‘I feel horrible and have to admit that the emotions in me are running so high that I was just literally shedding tears of frustration for my good friend Derek. Derek and I have been dreaming of the Around Alone since we first met in 1995, doing the Bermuda – One Two. We have become friends and swapped much information and encouragement in the lead up to the race. I flew to Canada to his beautiful boat, Spirit of Canada, during its construction stages, a yacht that Derek, family and friends built over a period of three years. He competed admirably in the Europe One Star race in 1996, a race I tried to enter but failed to cross the Atlantic.

‘This has been a bad leg for Derek, first electronics, then his keel mechanism, but all were surmountable with his consistent determination and desire to compete. Losing his mast is another story. I don’t know if he can recover from this catastrophic loss, to a non sponsored campaign. Time and finances are not on his side.

‘If ever there was a time that someone who has been encouraged, inspired and lived vicariously through Derek’s and the other skippers exploits and wants to help him in any way, particularly I would guess in a financial way, now is the time. What we have is a good man down and he needs help.’