Boatbuilder Jason Carrington talks to Andy Rice about how to make emergency offshore repairs

Jason Carrington was always in demand in professional offshore racing crews for his repair skills. Keeping the wheels on the wagon for skippers like Lawrie Smith, Neal McDonald and Ellen MacArthur has taken the British professional on some thrilling adventures around the world.

These days Jason’s company, Carrington Boats, is the go-to yard for producing some of the most high specification racing designs of recent times, though he is concerned about a lack of engineering and boatbuilding know-how coming through the current ranks of pro sailing.

“The sailors we see today are brilliant, but it’s becoming rarer to find any with a good practical side to their sailing skills, with some kind of background in boatbuilding or structural engineering,” he says. So you may not be surprised by the first of Jason’s five tips for what to do when things start falling apart mid-ocean…

1. Know your boat

I can think of a number of times when boats have failed to finish major races with problems that could have been resolved with the right expertise on board. Wherever possible, make sure you’ve got someone on the crew with practical knowledge who’s not afraid to have a go at fixing things, ideally someone with a background in engineering, maybe even a boatbuilder!

You need to have a good understanding of how the boat is put together, what is critical and what is not. When you’re making emergency repairs, knowing the right mixing ratios for epoxy resins needs to be second nature. Failing that, make sure there’s someone on shore who you can communicate with. At the very least, it’s good to have experienced technical back-up onshore if you can’t have it on board with you.

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2. Pack Sikaflex

There is always a difficult trade-off between how big a tool bag you bring with you, and the additional weight of stuff you might never use. If I was going to play ‘Desert Island Discs’ and identify the one thing I’d want with me, it’s Sikaflex. This construction sealant bonds pretty much anything to anything, and it’s good in water, which actually helps it to go off more quickly. So it’s just brilliant for all sorts of big leaks and sticking things back together.

3. Take C-plate and C-Tape

I always take some C-plate (carbon plates) with me. If you pull out a deck fitting, you could glue the C-plate to the deck and use it for a temporary rebuild that will keep you going. Bring a bag of nuts, bolts and washers and plenty of drill bits, and you can use C-plate to clamp delaminating skins back together.

We had to do this during a Jules Verne Challenge with Ellen MacArthur on the Kingfisher trimaran: we bust the aft beam where it was taking a constant, high-speed pounding from the waves. The core had sheared, so I climbed inside the beam with nuts and bolts and a battery drill, bored through the inner skin, through the core and the outer skin and then Neal McDonald was on the outside. With the bolts, C-plate and Sikaflex we bolted the beam back together while bouncing along at 35 knots.

The other thing that has come along in recent years is self-adhesive unidirectional carbon tape. It’s expensive, but fantastic for fixing things like broken steering wheels.

4. Bespoke spares

It’s ideal to be involved from the construction stage of a project so that you know that something like a bulkhead hatch could be removed and used as a spare for use in a hull or a deck repair, for example. If you’ve got big foredeck hatches, you need a back-up plan if one were to rip off and start letting in water. Maybe you could use a hatch from down below or a floorboard? Have your Plan B in mind before it happens.

Some things you just can’t replace easily so you’ll need bespoke spares. For a tough racing leg like the Southern Ocean, you might consider taking a spare steering wheel or rudder. With things like foils, if you break them it’s probably terminal. So weigh up the risk and decide if the extra weight and practicality of changing complicated and heavy parts is a price worth paying.

5. Emergency bag

At the start of the race I put all my epoxy resin with pumps and hardeners, the unidirectional carbon, all the fragile stuff, in a vacuum-packed see-through plastic bag. I’d have the bag marked up so that I could find it easily down below in the dark if there was an emergency. Make sure the rest of the crew is gentle with it because it’s going to help all of you out of trouble when things go wrong.

Also, buy the best tools you can afford: powerful battery tools are worth their weight in gold.

Offshore-yacht-repairs-Jason-Carrington-bw-headshot-600px-squareAbout the expert

Aside from being an experienced ocean racer, Jason Carrington is the most in-demand boatbuilder of the moment. He is known for his precision carbon builds. Recent projects have included Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, the all-conquering Fast 40+ Rán, and two foiling AC75s for INEOS Team UK’s 2021 America’s Cup campaign.

First published in the September 2020 issue of Yachting World.