Golding appears to have lost his keel a few hours out from the finishing line of the Vendée Globe

Hours from the finish of the Vendée Globe race, Mike Golding reported an emergency on board Ecover at 1530GMT today, citing ‘keel problems’. Our understanding is that Golding’s keel has fallen off in a situation acknowledged to be ‘similar to [Nick Moloney’s] Skandia.’

Golding is safe on board and at present 53 miles west of Les Sables d’Olonne, and he is making 2.5 knots to windward under a headsail, using his daggerboards – “sailing like a big dinghy”, according to his team, but with very little steerage. He has not asked for any help.

Race director Denis Horeau confirms that Golding’s intention is to make for the finishing line. “We are asking the French government for means to help us secure the situation and stand by but as long as Mike doesn’t need help or doesn’t ask for help we won’t interfere,” he said.

Golding’s shore team are oddly unable to clarify whether the keel has actually parted from Ecover’s hull, but it seems this is the case. Asked if it was still attached, his spokeswoman Clare MacNaughton said: “We don’t know. We think possibly not. He’s said ‘I can’t see it’ – that’s all he’s said. He did say he had not hit anything.”

Throughout this morning, Golding was sailing upwind under two reefs and a staysail and was looking forward to finishing tonight at about 1800GMT.

The situation does, indeed, seem to be similar to Skandia’s last week, when she lost her keel off the coast of Brazil. Like Moloney’s boat, Ecover’s is a fabricated steel keel. The designs were co-ordinated by different designers – Owen Clarke Design Group in Golding’s case – but share the same structural engineer, Roger Scammel.

These keels are accepted as having a fatigue life, with 50,000 miles being a conservative estimate of duration. Golding’s boat has done about 35,000 since new.

While the two boats are of different designs, stability calculations done for Skandia could be encouraging for Golding to nurse the boat back to shore. Fully ballasted with water, Skandia has an AVS of 90° without her keel. Provided the weather remains stable, and Golding is able to gybe round to make a tack for Les Sables d’Olonne it is very possible he could manage to sail over the line tomorrow, particularly with the security of an escort.

This is the fourth keel failure of the Vendée Globe. In December, Austrian sailor Norbert Sedlacek was forced to pull out after a failure of the forward pivot point on the keel of his Open 60 Brother. In January, Roland Jourdain was forced to make a shock retirement when the carbon axis of his canting keel developed a crack. And last week, the keel of Nick Moloney’s Skandia fell off.

As more news breaks, we will bring it to you on