Elaine Bunting is on board as Mike Golding's rig comes down during the Larmor Plage Trophy

Fate stamped on Mike Golding’s hopes of an easy season yesterday when his Open 60 Ecover was dismasted in the Larmor Plage Regatta in France. I was sailing as part of his crew and we were on our third race of the day when the starboard deck spreader snapped and the entire rig went over the side.

The dismasting happened halfway up the final beat in the last race. We were sailing under genoa and reefed mainsail in a true wind speed of about 17 knots and relatively flat sea and were midway through a tack when the deck spreader broke cleanly in two. At the time, four of us were directly under the mast, which sheared the mast step and deck plate and toppled directly over the new leeward side. Fortunately no-one was hurt.

I heard the sound of splintering carbon, knew immediately the mast was coming down and have never moved so fast in my life. I posted myself at top speed between the mainsail and the boom, which is fixed to the deck, and was pinned momentarily by the weight of the mainsail before managing to wriggle clear. The boat’s designer, Pascal Conq, escaped aft with a small cut to the head.

The entire mast went over the side in one piece and in the following two hours we were able to retrieve it intact, along with the boom and the port deck spreader. We also recovered the mainsail and genoa in one piece, undamaged apart from two fairly small holes in the mainsail.

Mike Golding’s response was impressive: immediately in control, counting crew and clearly explaining what had to be done. The sense of déjà vu must have been overwhelming, bringing back vivid memories of his dismasting the day after the start of the last Vendée Globe, but he remained focused and amazingly good humoured. “I’m getting used to it,” he commented, with his customary sardonic humour.

Several hours later, we motored to the nearby French America’s Cup base in Lorient, where a crane lifted the mast off the boat. During the next day or two, Mike Golding and his shore team will have to assess the damage and work out what repairs need to be done. There is a good deal of superficial damage to Ecover, as the mast bounced up and down and ground its way across deck, cabin top and toerails and tore down guardrails and titanium stanchions and daggerboard fences.

Among those who came to our aid was Roland Jourdain, skipper of Sill. Fresh from winning the final race he and two crew came over in a RIB and spent several hours helping sort out the damage.

It seems likely that Golding will miss the Regatta de Rubicon, in which he had planned to compete next week. This starts from Cherbourg on 11 May, and although he thinks rapid repairs might just be possible, he says he will probably prefer not to make repairs in haste and concentrate instead on making sure the boat is fully prepared for the his main event this year, the Route du Rhum in November.

Golding will also need to work out exactly why the dismasting happened. “It looks like it was compression failure of the spreader,” he says, “and I think we’ll find that it snapped at the transition where it tapers from wide to narrow.” He added that he will probably be more conservative in future and would beef up the deck spreaders.