Luke Berry and Antoine Joubert were racing in the Transat Jacques Vabre when their Ocean 50 trimaran suddenly dismasted and lost its port float. In an extraordinary rescue effort, Berry and Joubert were able to not only save the boat, but then sail it home to St Malo under jury rig, on just one float: proa-style
Luke Berry and his co-skipper Antoine Joubert were competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre on the Ocean 50 trimaran Le Rire Médecin-Lamotte when the boat suddenly dismasted and lost its port float.
In an extraordinary effort, assisted by French salvage expert Adrien Hardy, Berry and Joubert were able to save not only the boat, but all its parts. After being towed to Spain they then sailed home to St Malo under jury rig, on just one float: proa-style, as Berry explained to Yachting World.
The incident happened just hours after the Ocean 50 fleet restarted the Transat Jacques Vabre from Lorient on November 6, racing in 25-30 knots and 5m waves.
“At the start, everybody was quite conservative. We were very conservative going through that front.
“As usual, it’s always behind the front that it’s the most difficult because you’ve got cross waves and still quite gusty winds. We had two reefs and the J3, nearly the smallest amount of sail you can have. But we were sailing quite far off the wind, about 70 degrees. At 70 degrees, these boats go very, very fast. They can go up to 25-30 knots as soon as you start to bear away.
“The boat was going quite fast and it was actually quite difficult to slow her down. And at one point she just jumped off the wave and when she landed, the whole thing collapsed.”
Both the port hull sheared off and the rig came down simultaneously. “The beam that links both the hulls snapped to leeward, meaning the leeward float detached itself from the boat. Normally in these conditions, the boat should capsize. But in this case, the dismasting actually saved us.
“We don’t know why – was it the general impact of the wave or was it because the leeward hull broke and then there was less tension in the leeward shroud? However, the mast collapsed.
“This is something that I’ve experienced before. So I know that you’ve got to secure as much as possible, if you want to have any chance of getting your mast or your sails back.
“A lot of people in these conditions cut everything and get it all as far away as possible because you don’t want the mast or the foil or the hull to puncture the middle hull of the boat. That would have been the worst case scenario and I was definitely worried about that. But we secured as much as possible, so it was bashing as little as possible against the central hull.”
Berry alerted the race committee who in turn notified ocean rescue expert Adrien Hardy, was shadowing the Ocean 50 fleet on his 35m/115ft trimaran Merida as far as Madeira, part of a class-organised initiative that teams subscribe to. Merida arrived just two hours later in the early morning.
“It was still pitch black and there was 4 metres swell and 25 knots of wind. We talked on the VHF and assessed the situation, then [Hardy’s team] put their wetsuits on, they put their RIB in the water and they came on board to help us.
“The first thing was to get rid of the free float, but it’s not just attached by the carbon beams, it’s also attached by the whole net, which is lots of little bits of Dyneema lashing. So we had to cut all of it to completely free it, and take the shrouds off.
“We’d done a lot of work already, but we were quite exhausted by the time they came. So we managed to get rid of the float, and attach it so we didn’t lose it.
“I couldn’t quite see how we were going to get the mast back on board because there was a sail trailing behind it. We got the middle of the mast with some winches and some bits of rope.
“Then for the top section, Adrien dove into the water a couple of metres down and attached this big buoy – they used them in retrieving shipwrecks – and inflated it with an oxygen cylinder to bring the mast to the surface. Then we managed to retrieve that and lift it up under both beams.”
Merida towed the disabled trimaran to port in Northern Spain, with the broken float towing behind the Ocean 50. Berry and Joubert then spent a couple of days preparing the boat to sail back to St Malo.
“We had the idea of putting the hull onto the existing beams and what was left of the platform, so we had a phone call with the naval architects to see where and if it was structurally viable to be able to transport it.
“Then we used the bottom of the mast to make a jury rig. We had a Hobie 15 sail for the main, we used our J3 for the foresail – which we put upside down so that the clew was at the right height – and a Mini 650 sail. We managed to put up a third sail because we had a lot of downwind sailing to give us some extra surface area.”
After waiting for a weather window, the pair had a couple of days to cross the Bay of Biscay between two fronts on their hobbled trimaran.
“It was on one tack to West Brittany, but then the problem was to get to North Brittany, it was on the other tack, so we weren’t quite sure how that was going to work out. What we did was put a lot of weight to starboard to compensate for the fact that it was lacking a hull, and that went okay. We had up to 25-30 knots of wind and big waves, but it stayed in place.”
Having safely arrived in St Malo, Berry is now working through non-destructive testing to establish the damage to the boat. “It’s very disappointing, for us because we were doing well in the race. And in fact three Ocean 50s in total, broke, so that was a bit of shame for the class because it’s a very good class.
“We have some fierce racing and these are really good boats. But unfortunately, this Transat Jaques Vabre wasn’t for us.”
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