More details emerge on the serious keel problems that led to Jourdain's retirement from the race.
Having retired from the race after suffering substantial keel damage, Roland Jourdain is now nursing his boat north. The damage appears to be with the head of the keel where the hydraulic rams are attached.
Speaking from the boat Jourdain said, “I first noticed a strange grinding noise about 48 hours ago. It was different to all the other boat sounds. I opened the lid of the keel box and saw that there was a lot of play on the head of the keel which means that it rocks around on its axis. I could see through the tubing that there was air in the hydraulic. The carbon cap that reinforces the head of the keel has become unstuck and I have absolutely no idea why. It’s a catastrophe.”
While details about the cause of the problems are still unclear and will doubtless remain so until the boat can be inspected, Sill’s designer Marc Lombard explains what is known about the damage so far and how Jourdain is coping with the problems.
“If you were to look at the fin in elevation, the top of the fin is a U-shape with the axle running across the hollow of the U,” he said. “The hydraulic jacks are attached to this axle which is reinforced in the fin with carbon fibre. It is this reinforcement that has apparently detached from the structure of the solid carbon fibre fin. We have no idea why this has happened. It might be something to do with the construction, but at the moment we are really not sure,” he said.
While serious, Lombard believes that there is no imminent risk of the keel coming off completely.
“The problem is bad but we’re not worried that he’ll lose the keel,” he said. “If too much pressure is applied by the rams then there is a possibility that the axle will break free from the fin which would allow the keel to swing from side to side.
“At the moment Roland has dropped the keel down to the central position to keep the load off the axle. He has attached ropes to the head of the keel to stop the keel from swinging if the axle does break free.”
Keel problems seem to have dogged Lombard and Jourdain’s season. Earlier in the year Jourdain experienced disturbing vibrations from the keel during the delivery from Brittany up to the start of the Calais 1000 race. The experience also raised concerns for Le Cam aboard Bonduelle, an identical sistership to Sill, even though this boat hadn’t experienced the same problems.
Later, both boats pulled out of the Transat before it had even started amid concerns about the structural security of their keels and the onset of flutter in certain conditions. Since then both keels have been modified and neither boat has suffered any similar problems.
Lombard is adamant that there is no reason to believe that this most recent problem is linked in anyway to the flutter issues. There is however concern over the structure of Jean le Cam’s keel aboard Bonduelle which is an identical sistership to Jourdain’s boat
“Jean has looked at his keel and there is nothing,” said Lombard. “Not a single crack, nothing.”
Nevertheless some may see this as further evidence that, despite the apparent weight advantage, carbon fin keels are unsuitable and that steel fins are more reliable. Lombard disagrees.
“There have been similar problems with steel fins too,” he said. “The attachment of the jacks to a steel fin on another of the new boats had a problem on its first outing when a crack developed in the head of the keel,” he said.