In the solo non-stop Vendee Globe, Ellen MacArthur's boat has suffered serious damage in a collision

It’s every sailor’s greatest fear: collision with an unseen, semi-submerged object. It happenend to Josh Hall in Around Alone, he lost his boat as a result. It happened to Enza on her first Jules Verne attempt. Now it has happenend to second placed MacArthur in the Vendee.

Containers, lost overboard from ships in bad weather, are often blamed, and it is a container that Ellen believes she hit. ‘The boat came to a shuddering halt from 10 knots,’ she reported, ‘and there was an awful sound of tearing and breaking carbon fibre.’ Behind her she saw a broken daggerboard and part of a rudder floating away.

Her first reaction was to check the hull but fortunately she could find no sign of water ingress. Then she began the lengthy and exhausting task of removing the broken port board, lifting the 70kg, 3 metre undamaged starboard board from its housing, drilling and cutting holes for the raising and lowering tackles and inserting it, upside down, into the port casing.

It is a tribute to the design and build of the boat that the boards are designed to break before the hull is damaged, which is how it happened, and that the rudder has a sacrifical tip to prevent the whole blade being damaged in an accident like this.

But it is even more of a tribute to MacArthur that all this time she was sailing at full speed, and although she lost about 40 miles distance on race leader Michel Desjoyeaux, she is still in touch and now sailing at 100% again. Third placed Roland Jordain is some 300 miles further back.

The first boats are expected in Les Sables d’Olonne between 11 and 13 February and it is anticipated that crowds in excess of 100,000 will be there to greet them, including the Yachting World team who will be sending stories direct from the finish line.