Sir Robin Knox-Johnston returns to shore in the Velux 5 Oceans race 24/10/06

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston reported this morning that he has suffered damage to his yacht ‘Saga Insurance’ overnight whilst sailing in gusts of up to 72 knots. Sir Robin is currently sailing towards La Coruña, north-western Spain to carry out urgent repairs to his mast track and communications systems. He is expected to arrive on Thursday to be met by his shore team, before continuing Leg 1 of the Velux 5 Oceans solo round-the-world yacht race.

Sir Robin had been sailing along the coast of Northern Spain under storm jib when his boat lurched violently and was knocked on her side by a huge wave at 0120 (GMT). Whilst he was not seriously hurt, there is severe damage to the mast track stopping Sir Robin from raising his mainsail more than nine feet above the deck of the boat. Sir Robin intends to replace the lower section of his mast track – replacing the bent section – before continuing with the first leg, to Fremantle, Western Australia.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston spoke to the Velux 5 Oceans race headquarters earlier today and commented: “Last night was a bad one, one just reached 72 knots. The waves were huge and the sea white with spindrift, but ‘Saga Insurance’ was lying pretty comfortably. There was an enormous lurch at about 0120 and the boat was knocked on her side by a wave. I expected to fall backwards but it was not more than about 90 degrees. By 0500 things had eased considerably but I decided to wait until daylight before tackling the deck and just as well. It took three hours to sort out the mess of tangled sheets. I got ready to go racing again and discovered the lower section of mast track had come loose and pulled out its bolt. This had bent it so it would not allow movement past it up or down by the sliders. I tried getting it off, but two of the screw heads were burred and the top one was loose in the mast. I decided to carry on with care, but as I was hoisting the main to the second reef the whole section pulled right out. So now I have a gap in the track nine feet above the deck and I cannot cope with that in an emergency.

“The other problem is with the Sat C [satellite communications equipment] which bleeps constantly, making sleeping down below very difficult. The Windex at the masthead has disappeared and the masthead sender is loose. I hit my back again but it’s just bruising. There will be another gale tonight. La Coruña is currently 125 miles away and with what mainsail I can set, I can make 5 knots max. My earliest ETA will be Thursday, the repairs will take about a day, and then I’ll carry on and try to catch the others up.”

Of the conditions today and his current progress, Sir Robin commented:

“I’ve been sat in the cockpit watching the waves breaking around the boat. They shine so brightly in the sun, ever changing – you can watch it for hours. The waves are watery Himalayas, they are probably about 40 feet between trough and crest. All of the crests are breaking, the wind is so strong it is blowing a spindrift across the top of the ocean. Everything around me is white, you dare not look into it as you would be blinded. It is as bad as anything you would see in the Southern Ocean. I mean, 72 knots, you are up at hurricane level. The boat is otherwise fine and just needs the chance to show herself, she has been riding the waves beautifully – an absolute dream. She’s really good, it is just a bit uncomfortable for the human inside her. There is no point in trying to race in these conditions, it is better to just keep the boat and crew comfortable until the seas subside. We will race again when conditions permit. The wind sounds like the BBC sound effects for a storm in Antarctica!”

In his typically buoyant spirit he added: “Sorry about the drama.”

Of the other five competitors who started the Velux 5 Oceans on Sunday afternoon, three further competitors have also suffered damage to their boats in the exceptional conditions that have been likened to the tragic 1998 Sydney-Hobart race. Mike Golding (GBR) arrived for repairs in La Coruña today, Unai Basurko (ESP) is en route to Santander and Alex Thomson’s yacht ‘Hugo Boss’ is currently moored in Gijon while he sources a replacement headsail.

Alex commented earlier today: “The conditions have been completely heinous and all the boats have taken a real battering. Yet again I am filled with enormous respect for my fellow competitors and at the same time I share the disappointment and frustration I know Mike, Unai and now Sir Robin will be feeling.”

Tim Troy (USA) and Graham Dalton (NZ) who were unable to make the start line on Sunday afternoon are still in Bilbao making final adjustments to their boats before setting off for Fremantle, Western Australia.

The Velux 5 Oceans is the oldest and most established, single-handed round the world yacht race. With a rich sporting heritage, the race has been contested every four years since 1982, previously under the titles of ‘BOC Challenge’ and more recently ‘Around Alone.’ The ultimate in human endeavour, more people have climbed Mount Everest and travelled to the moon, than have completed a solo circumnavigation. Sir Robin was the first man to ever sail single-handed, non stop around the world, in 1969 when he won the Sunday Times Golden Globe race on board his yacht Suhaili.