The rotating mast foot has cracked and the question is whether to carry on and risk dismasting or play it safe and head for the nearest port

A message early this morning from the crew informed Orange’s shore team that they have a major mast problem on board and are considering whether or not to abandon their attempt to break the Jules Verne record. The titanium ball on which the rotating wingmast is stepped has cracked laterally. If it breaks, there is every chance of the boat being dismasted.

Skipper Bruno Peyron confirmed that he was looking at three possible courses of action: to ditch the record and head for the nearest port; to continue ‘and pray’; or to reinforce the ball by laminating carbon round it and hope that this will last for the remaining couple of thousand miles to the finish at Ushant.

For the moment, the crew are continuing as the sea state is relatively smooth and they are sailing downwind. They are talking to the yard responsible for the building of the boat, Multiplast, about how best to carry out the repairs. However, they admit that if the wind comes ahead, as it almost certainly will sometime after they cross the Equator today, the situation could look completely different.

“We have a Sword of Damocles above our heads that won’t leave us until we reach the finishing line – if we finish,” said Peyron, “so we have taken the decision to sail differently to the way we planned, choosing the weather options that will allow us to sail as little as possible into headwinds.”

Peyron also revealed that the problem occurred several days ago and was discovered during routine maintenance, as the titanium ball was being lubricated.

This is the second serious structural problem aboard the boat. Shortly after entering the Southern Ocean, the crew found damage to the aft beam. The fairing had delaminated 2m from the port hull and two bulkheads inside the beam had cracked. This was repaired by laminating a patch inside the beam.

Up until now, Orange’s crew had been revelling in ideal conditions and notching up 500-plus mile days. They had stretched their lead over trophy holder Olivier de Kersauson’s position at the same stage to more than four days, and looked as if they could comfortably set a new record in two weeks’ time or less. To finish safely they will need some luck and will have to slow the boat considerably.