Yesterday, Mike Golding and his crew started assessing the damage to his Open 60 Ecover and began piecing together why the boat was dismasted on Friday. Initially, Golding believed the cause was a compression failure of one of the deck spreaders, which had broken midway through a tack. However, the evidence became clear yesterday that the spreader had been snapped by a genoa sheet, which had pulled upwards against the spreader as the genoa was backed to go through a tack.
“We took the two pieces of spreader and from looking at the pieces you could see it has broken in an upwards direction,” said Golding. “If a spreader breaks under compression the first thing you would see is that the ends would melt together, but when we put the pieces together it’s quite a clean joint on one face and the top had exploded out.
“Then we put the broken pieces on the boat in roughly the right position and looked at what could have pushed up on it from beneath and it had to be the genoa sheet.”
I was crewing on Ecover at the time and we had been halfway up the windward leg of an inshore race and midway through a tack when the spreader broke. We had been backing the genoa to spin Ecover through the wind the day before, but in the evening had bent on a new genoa designed to improve the boat’s upwind performance. It seems the shape and size of this new genoa, and the sheet position when it was backed, were the culprits.
“During the winter we modified the genoa,” Mike Golding explains. “We increased the luff length and built a new sail with the intention of keeping the clew position exactly the same. When we took delivery of the sail it was oversize and we sent it back and it was recut, but not enough. The problem was that when the sail was flying it was just kissing the deck spreader in its normal position, but when the sail was backed it was pushing up on the deck spreader an unacceptable amount.”
Although this is the second time Mike Golding’s Open 60 has been dismasted, the two incidents are not related. A probable forestay failure caused his dismasting the day after the start of the Vendée Globe in 2000, and this also appears to be an aggravated rigging failure. Golding says he is annoyed, frustrated and disappointed, but at the same time relieved that it wasn’t a structural failure. “None of these things point to a flaw in the concept of this rig,” he comments. “If you break a spreader, even on an aluminium rig, the mast would fall over just as hard.”
Commenting on the spate of recent failures in carbon rigs, he says: “There were plenty of mast failures when there were aluminium masts. Carbon is a perfect material for building spars. I’ve hardly ever heard of a carbon tube failure. It’s normally a rigging failure and in a way this was a rigging failure.”
He believes using materials such as carbon or PBO in rigging is not in itself a risk factor. “The difference with these boats is that we’re always pushing the technical limits and in a fully crewed environment we’re pushing the boat harder.
“An incident like this is regrettable, but it’s just one of those things. It goes with the territory. You can’t get involved with a sport that technologically is pushing Formula 1 type aspirations and not expect Formula 1 type failures. It happens in every sport that involves technology. The reason it seems so bad is because it happened once before. But this is only the second rig I’ve dropped in 15 years of sailing.”
The list of damage to Ecover includes a localised area about halfway up the mast, caused as it banged against the deck and on padeyes on the deck edge, one broken deck spreader and one cracked spreader, relatively minor damage to the deck and mangled pushpits, pulpit and stanchions. The forestay and almost all the rigging is intact.