Harry McGougan (boat captain aboard Hugo Boss) spoke exclusively to yachtingworld.com this morning about what happened to Alex Thomson's yacht Hugo Boss which was damaged yesterday

Alex Thomson yesterday suffered possibly the biggest blow in his sailing career so far when his yacht Hugo Boss was seriously damaged. Not only has he lost his valuable 7th position at the top half of the Vendee Globe fleet but the chances of him continuing in the race are now looking fairly slim.

Disaster struck yesterday morning at 1020 just off the southern most tip of South Africa when it was blowing 45kts on the nose. The deck that surrounds the structure, on which the gooseneck is attached, collapsed leaving a gaping hole in the deck.

According to Harry McGougan (boat captain aboard Hugo Boss) who spoke exclusively to yachtingworld.com this morning, when the deck crumbled the carbon post which supports the gooseneck (which passes through the deck, and is laminated on to the mast bulkhead) forced post to detach itself from the bulkhead(see drawing). Not only did this leave a massive hole in the deck but left the boom unsupported and the carbonfibre post structure swinging around, chewing up the deck.

Another concern for Alex at the time was the intense depression about to hit the area so his priorities at this stage was to seal the area to prevent water ingress. McGougan said: “Having discovered the problem, Alex bore away to take the pressure off the main, lowered and lashed down the main, secured the post, and made for a course that was going to get him away from the depression.”

McGougan continued: “The hole is above the keel box, and next to the keel box are all the controls for the canting keel system and all the electrics for it. Also all the wiring that comes down from the mast which is all linked into his autopilot was another cause for concern. If the electrics failed on his keel he would have had more major problems. Fortunately Alex found a waterproof sheet that he was able to use to cover up the electrics.”

The depression hit on cue bringing with it maximum wind speeds of 70-75kts and huge breaking waves. Fortunately Alex had already turned the boat round and was heading north-west while the depression was heading south-east – downwind, the fastest route away from it.

However, things were about to get worse. At 1640 the boat was knocked down by a couple of very big waves. Although more water was taken on, fortunately the electrics remain unscathed and when she flipped back upright her mast was still in one piece. From then on the wind started to abate. By 2000 it was down to 50kts and then through the night and early morning the wind had dropped to a respectable level.

Battered and bruised Hugo Boss is now heading towards the direction of Cape Town where Alex hopes to find shelter which will enable him to start repairs.

McGougan continued: “He can’t start doing any repairs until he’s in an area of flat calm and a period of time with warm, dry weather because the damaged area has to be completely dry. We [the shore team] can’t really establish exactly how much delamination there is because when these things happen the area around the damage starts delaminating and assessing it is a bit of an unknown quantity.”

When asked if the mast at risk? McGougan answered: “We’ve spoken to the designer and we believe that the mast is still well supported. The bulkhead that it’s supported on doesn’t appear to be damaged but if delamination appears on that bulkhead, the situation could change.” And the gooseneck, is the structure okay? “Yes, that’s all intact but the big job is re-attaching the gooseneck structure to the bulkhead, re-laminating the deck all the way around it, and strengthening it with carbon.”

According to McGougan, Alex has enough materials to carry out a repair on the damage as it stands but if further delamination starts to occur in surrounding areas the situation will change.

McGougan concluded: “He basically cannot carry on until he’s got it sorted. If he does go through the long process of fixing it and he’s happy with the repair, bearing in mind he’s off into the Southern Ocean, he’ll then have to assess the situation. With a repair like that he won’t be able to sail the boat to his normal style.”

Although McGougan and team have some theories about the cause of the damage not surprisingly they won’t reveal their thoughts until their 100 percent sure.

More news when we have it.