Josh Hall is dismasted in the Southern Ocean, but Thiercelin sets a new 24-hour speed record

A Southern Ocean gale swept over the fleet in the Around Alone singlehanded race around the world yesterday, and left an indelible mark on two of the Class I front-runners. At 2318 GMT on 10 February, British skipper Josh Hall reported that he’d lost the mast aboard his 60-footer, Gartmore Investment Management. Several hours later, race coordinator Pete Dunning delivered the news to leg leader Marc Thiercelin that he’d set a new 24-hour speed record of 392.3 nautical miles aboard his Open 60, SOMEWHERE. The incidents underscored a fact proven countless times before – deep in the Roaring Forties, there’s a fine line between glory and catastrophe.

Shortly after informing race headquarters of his condition via a COMSAT satellite phone call, Hall sent this message to Gartmore shore manager Claire Lewis: “Disaster has struck – at 2315 GMT last night the mast broke and the whole lot went into the ocean. At the time we were blasting along at 20-plus knots in 35 knots of wind and heavy seas. We were under triple-reefed main and staysail and though it was fast and furious she was comfortable. I was at the chart table plotting a position, heard a huge bang and on looking out the window saw the mast tumbling down. It appears that it broke beneath the lower spreaders. It took about 2 hours to cut it away from the boat to avoid hull damage and it appears that the hull and deck are unscathed. I am about 300 miles from the Chatham Islands… I am exhausted, my flu not helping my energy levels at all, but some time in the coming 12 hours will organize a jury rig to help progress. For the moment we are motoring north still in heavy conditions, at about 3 knots… My vague plan at present is to reach safe harbour, organize a sensible jury rig, and sail to New Zealand… Whatever, the race is run for us again prematurely, I am gutted, I don’t know what to say or do at the moment. A bewildered Josh…”

At 1300 GMT yesterday, Hall was still some 300 miles southeast of the Chathams and making less than three knots under power. The immediate weather picture is not pretty. Ken Campbell of Commanders’ Weather told Dunning this morning that conditions will ease over the next 24-hours, but afterwards an approaching cold front will bring west-southwest winds of 25-30 knots, with gusts to 40 knots and accompanying seas of 12- to 16-feet. “He hasn’t got a good ride going there,” Dunning said. Dunning also pointed out that the closest boat to Hall – Brad Van Liew’s BALANCE BAR – was the ex-Newcastle Australia, the same vessel that came to Hall’s aid in the last Around Alone race when he struck an object and required rescue on Leg 1 of the event.

Race officials diverted Van Liew towards Hall’s position for roughly five hours in case the English skipper required assistance, but released him from the mission when Hall assured everyone that he was safe and could carry on alone. Early today, Van Liew sent this update to the race operations team: “I last spoke to Josh a few hours ago… He said he was too exhausted to fashion a jury rig but would do so in the next day or so and motor until then. He had 50 gallons of fuel on board and figured he could motor for 120 hours if necessary. He thought [that was] probably enough to get to the islands but [he] would fashion a jury-rig anyway. The mast tube [broke] below the first spreader and he has been able to salvage the boom and the mainsail. He has shattered dreams but he is a strong man and he will get through it because he loves life, his family and, believe it or not, sailboat racing.” Remarkably, as Hall’s news reached race headquarters officials they were confirming the fact that Thiercelin had sailed 392.3 miles between the 0340 GMT position reports on 10 and 11 February. In a COMSAT email to Thiercelin, Dunning wrote, “Congratulations, but take care!!!” Wise words, for as Hall knows, it only takes an instant for the world to be turned upside down.