Dismasting spells the end of Graham Dalton's competitive race in Around Alone, but he's vowing to carry on

Around Alone sailor Graham Dalton and his team face major decisions this week after the dismasting of his Open 60 Hexagon at the weekend. He took on fuel during his stop to repair his boom at Cape Horn and believes he has enough to motor the 650 miles towards Mar del Plata. The next step will be to work out how to get the boat sailing again and in place for the next start from Salvador da Bahia in Brazil on 13 April.

Dalton does not have a spare mast and it is highly unlikely there will be enough time to build a new one from scratch and ship it to South America. However, there are other options. Race leader Bernard Stamm has a spare mast which has already bailed out one other competitor in this race so far: Simone Bianchetti, whose yacht Tiscali was dismasted in the Bay of Biscay. Dalton’s team may also consider hiring the spare mast of Ellen MacArthur’s 60 Kingfisher, the same spar that got him across the Atlantic to the start of Around Alone in Newport after a previous dismasting last summer.

This time, Dalton lost his mast during a crash gybe in 35 knots of winds. This is his second successive crash gybe breakage on this leg; the boom broke when it shattered on a runner last week. On both occasions, the boat was under autopilot. Crash gybes are an almost unavoidable feature of life for single-handers – it is largely a measure of the lack of sophistication of autopilots in coping with true wind angles and an occasional tendency to lose their bearings – and single-handers, of course, have no choice but to rely on autopilots. However, the consequences of a crash gybe also depend on how hard the boat is being driven and how much sail is up.

This was Dalton’s report about the dismasting: ‘The mast broke into three pieces and fell over the side of the boat. As all of this happened, the wind suddenly increased to 50 knots, and the mast broke further into four pieces.

‘There was white water all around. The ocean surrounding Hexagon was covered in breaking waves and lying right next to her was the mast, still attached to the boat by its rigging and banging against the hull. Initially, my thought was to save the rig. With a piece of the mast I could make a small jury rig and sail to the coast of Argentina.

‘I winched the largest piece of the mast on deck and tied it down with the [headsail] sheets. When this was finished I went below to inform the Around Alone Race HQ and a massive wave broke over Hexagon. The force of this wave picked up the mast and snapped the sheets like they were pieces of cotton. The rig was once again in the water, and was now a potential danger to me.

‘I called the Race HQ and informed them of my situation and the conditions. I had to cut the mast free from the boat, as the longer it was left attached the more risk there would be that it would bash against Hexagon’s hull and make a hole. The conditions remained bad and waves were breaking over the deck. To go up and cut the rig free would have been foolhardy, so I had to sit below and listen to the noise, waiting for the wind to abate.

‘I closed all the hatches and each of Hexagon’s watertight compartments, so if the boat was holed, only one section would flood and this could stop her from sinking. I also got all of my safety equipment out so it would be ready to deploy should the worst happen.’