Damien Guillou, one of the favourites in this year’s singlehanded Golden Globe Race, is facing mid-ocean repairs to his self-steering gear in the South Atlantic, while British leader Simon Curwen gets stuck up his mast

French skipper Damien Guillou, one of the pre-race favourites in this year’s solo Golden Globe Race, is facing his second major windvane breakage, which will require significant mid-ocean repairs if he is to remain in contention in the race.

Damien Guillou, an extremely experienced offshore racer and IMOCA boat captain, is racing a Rustler 36 with sponsorship from PRB. Given his race background and extremely well-prepared boat, Guillou was expected to be among the front runners in this solo non-stop ‘retro’ around the world race. However, he had to return to port just four days after the start to fix the mount for his Hydrovane self steering system.

The starboard screw/axle windvane attachment to the transom of his Rustler 36 had broken while sailing in 30 knots headwinds and heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay in the opening stages of the race.

‘I was going upwind close-hauled in strong headwinds and heavy seas, which is not a point of sail where the windvane is under strong pressure,” Guillou explained at the time. “Once this [lower starboard] screw broke, and we lost one of the three fittings, the rudder acted as a lever. I tried to use lines to stabilise the system and fit a new axis, to no avail in the wind conditions and sea state of that night.”

After returning to port, and fixing the axle – in part with the help of Vendée Globe legendary skipper and long-time PRB sailor Vincent Riou – Guillou restarted, six days and some 700 miles behind the fleet.

Guillou setting off to restart the Golden Globe Race after making repairs to his the bracket for his wind vane after suffering damage in Biscay. Photo: GGR

Guillou does a ‘Desjoyeaux’

Guillou rapidly made up the miles, and was back in touch with the main pack by the Canaries. His race called to mind that of Michel Desjoyeaux’s 2008-09 Vendée Globe, who was among four skippers forced back to Les Sables d’Olonne by damage to his Foncia in the opening days of the race, but then restarted. Desjoyeaux then relentlessly climbed back up through the fleet, taking the lead before Christmas, and going on to win overall. Desjoyeaux himself noted Guillou’s achievement, tweeting: “He is in the process of doing a “Desjoyeaux”, only better. If I may [say so]!”

Guillou was up to 4th place yesterday as the front-runners chased hard in the South Atlantic. Race leader Simon Curwen was approaching the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, some 2,000 miles to the east. The fleet has been contending with confused seas of  4m plus, with winds averaging 15-20 knots but gusting 30-40.

Guillou called race control yesterday to report that the stainless steel rudder shaft of his wind vane had broken at the top of the rudder. The rudder was secured by a safety line so was not lost, but Guillou has no functioning self-steering, although overnight he was still maintaining boat speeds of 6+ knots.

He has a complete spare rudder shaft onboard PRB. In order to effect the repair, he will need to remove the main transmission gear from the self-steering unit, take the broken shaft out and then slide a new shaft in before replacing the main gear. He will also have to replace the rudder mid-ocean, which will require him to go over the side of the boat to get into the water.

Guillou told race control that he can make the repair, but needs calmer conditions to do so. A high pressure system is currently to the south-east of the leaders, or an alternative option may be to head for the shelter of Tristan da Cunha. He may not lose too many miles, as a forecast northerly windshift could potentially give Gillou a more direct route to Cape Town.

Curwen leads Golden Globe

British skipper Simon Curwen on Clara at the start of the Golden Globe Race. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP via Getty Images.

Meanwhile the overall leader Simon Curwen’s position looks secure, nearly 500 miles ahead of Guillou, and well positioned to hook into the Southern Ocean westerlies. However, he too has been dealing with challenging maintenance issues, which at one stage saw him stuck up the mast of his Biscay 36 Clara.

After breaking his genoa halyard early in the Southern Ocean, Curwen sought shelter off Trinidade island, a compulsory passing mark of the course (but not a film drop ‘stop’). He climbed the mast to try and repair the halyard, to no avail, and had to detach himself from his safety harness and climb down after it became damaged.

‘There was not enough shelter behind a small little island so I hove-to as there was no chance of anchoring. I was up the mast for a couple of hours, but the trouble was I was just getting bashed into the mast. I got to the top [of the mast] and most of the way back down again, but my bosun’s chair started falling apart and I fell partially out of it and I had to cut myself free and free climb down.

“I lost my mousing line, which I may be able to recover. At the moment, I am not much better off than I was,’ Curwen told organiser Don McInytre during a weekly satphone call. He is now hoping to make repairs in the shelter of Cape Town’s harbour at the next ‘film drop’ (where skippers are met at a passing mark for media interviews etc but do not go ashore).

Irish Skipper Pat Lawless has had a halyard breakage in the South Atlantic. Photo: GGR / Nora Havel

Other skippers have also suffered damage after six weeks of racing: Irish skipper Pat Lawless has had his Solent halyard snap, Ertan Beskardes cannot store power in his batteries after manage a significant electrical failure onboard, including a small fire onboard; Abhilash Tomy reported a gas leak, which is now repaired; and Elliott Smith is suffering major deck/hull leaks from starboard on this long, windy port tack to Trinidade.

Several skippers have already reported issues with barnacles, which were the bane of many during the last edition of this relatively slow around the world race.

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