Another 60ft trimaran has lost her rig, making it the sixth this season alone. What's going on?

Another rig came tumbling down today in the ORMA 60 trimaran fleet when Groupama’s mast broke during the Fécamp regatta. This is the sixth dismasting in the class this season alone.

Groupama was sailing under mainsail and trinquette in 20 knots of wind and a short sea kicked up by wind over tide. The mast reportedly snapped 10m from the top close to the staysail tang.

This is a serious setback for skipper Franck Cammas (pictured left), Groupama’s skipper. Cammas is one of the favourites for the year’s highest profile solo offshore race, the Route du Rhum in November. Cammas won last year’s two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre and was lying 2nd this year in the ORMA 60 circuit behind Loïck Peyron’s Fujifilm.

Dismastings are becoming a bad habit among the trimaran fleet. Jean-Luc Nelias’s Belgacom lost her mast in the spring, so did Bertrand de Broc’s Banque Covefi, and Alain Gautier’s brand new Foncia II and Michel Desjoyeaux’s new Géant followed suit. Theoretically, Franck Cammas could be back in action in time for the start of the Route du Rhum, but Michel Desjoyeaux’s first major race in his new boat is in jeopardy because he cannot have a replacement build in time to qualify for the race.

The spate of failures has posed mast designers and builders and boat designers some complicated questions. Some of the breakages have been attributed to flaws in the very high modulus carbon fibre used, but not all are built of the same material so they are not necessarily related.

“We know some of the mast problems but not all,” says designer Vincent Lauriot Prévost. “It’s quite difficult to analyse and it is a conjunction of several problems which we can’t confirm at this stage.” He says that mast designers and builders are trying to eliminate materials as the cause.

“To save weight we want to work with high modulus fibre,” he explains, “and the grade has increased. So now we are working with very high modulus fibre and we suspect that there could be a problem with these.” In the meantime new masts are being built in “more conventional fibre”.

The causes are harder to solve because so many new boats are being built simultaneously. “A lot of boats have been made in a very short time, and that’s different from the past,” explains Lauriot Prévost. “So you don’t have experience of projects before and sometimes if you have a problem with one it happens on two or three. There is no time to learn and make modifications. Four years ago when boats were built one every 18 months we hadn’t got the same problems.”