Top French sailor Seb Josse has had to retire from the Vendée Globe after suffering damage to his yacht's port foil in extreme Southern Ocean conditions

Top French sailor Sébastien Josse, one of the favourites in the Vendée Globe solo round the world race, has decided to retire after damage to one of his foils in very rough conditions in the Southern Ocean.

His boat slammed into the trough of an 8m wave in 35 knots of wind on 5 December, leading to damage to the fitting at the top of the port foil.

Josse was lying in 3rd place, some 600 miles behind the leaders and west of the Kerguelen Islands at 42°S. He had been nursing his boat through an intense low pressure bringing severe weather with winds gusting over 40 knots and 8m seas when he found damage to the port foil of his foil-equipped IMOCA 60 Edmond de Rothschild.

His boat is one of the new VPLP designs with so-called ‘Dali’ foils. Read more about why these boats have foils here.

Seb Josse on Edmond de Rothschild, forced to retire from Vendée Globe 2016

Seb Josse on Edmond de Rothschild, forced to retire from Vendée Globe 2016. Photo Yavan Zedda / Gitana SA / Vendée Globe

His team reports: ‘On Monday morning at 09:30 GMT, Sébastien Josse alerted his team that he’d suffered serious damage to the port foil on Edmond de Rothschild after she buried into a wave’

“I wasn’t really in any more of an attacking phase than usual when the incident occurred, but conditions were muscly in front of the low pressure system,” Josse said. “There was 35 knots of breeze and the seas were beginning to get heavy with waves of around 4m. During a surf, the boat powered up to 30 knots and then stalled suddenly to ten knots as she buried into a wave. It lasted a matter of seconds.

“I was under the cuddy between the two companionway doors. When the boat powered back up I felt that something was out of kilter and I quickly saw that there was an issue with the port foil. It was in the water whilst I was sailing with the foils raised.

“I went to open the foil casing hatch inside the boat and saw the breakage. The point where the line attaches to the head of the foil, which is a carbon part designed and proportioned to withstand high stresses, had yielded. I had to act fast as the foil was just hanging in there by two screws and had it come out of its housing that could have had much more serious consequences.

“It could have damaged the casing by skewing sideways, which could have led to water ingress. I very quickly gybed to secure the foil and prevent that happening, but unfortunately the timing of the weather was bad.”

The illustration below shows the foil and area of damage.

Diagram of Edmond de Rothschild's port foil showing it in a fully deployed position and the area of concern

Diagram of Edmond de Rothschild‘s port foil showing it in a fully deployed position and the area of concern.

“To preserve the damaged gear, I would have needed to continue on starboard tack towards the north-east, but the forecast deterioration in the weather meant that I had to dive back down to the south-east, putting stress on the damaged foil in the poor conditions.

“I’ve already experienced worse conditions on this boat, particularly during the Transat St Barth– Port-la-Forêt where we had up to 50 knots, but here, in the Southern Ocean, everything takes on a whole new dimension due to your remoteness. The situation was complicated on Monday night through into Tuesday.”

As Josse hunkered down in the storm and endured the conditions under just three reefs, several solutions for repairs were devised and put forward by his shore crew so that he could select whichever one seemed the most viable.

But he commented: “When you’re racing the Vendée Globe, you know that you’ll have work to do on the boat on a daily basis. But that has to come to an end when it’s merely a question of dressing. I’m a nurse, not a surgeon.”

The options discussed were too difficult for a lone person to implement in the open ocean and would, in any case, have been more of a temporary fix than a lasting solution. Josse would then have faced another 15,000 miles of the race, including the whole of the Southern Pacific, at between 40 and 50°S, an areas that is one of the most isolated on the planet.

His team stated: ‘The objective shared by Gitana Team and Sébastien Josse does not involve circumnavigating the globe whatever the cost, or taking additional risks in what is already a dangerous situation. Rather it’s about being competitive.

‘Today, that philosophy is compromised. Neither the sailor, nor the team want to expose themselves again to the risk of the foil pulling out of its housing and the resulting water ingress in an emergency situation aboard Edmond de Rothschild in its geographical position.’

This is a bitter disappointment for Josse, who was hoping for a top result on his third Vendée. On the last occasion, in 2008, he was racing BT and had to retire from the race when boat was knocked over and into a broach in the Southern Pacific Ocean resulting in a cracked deck and damage to a kick-up rudder system.