Mast snaps just half an hour after Bruno Peyron's maxi-catamaran sets off on a Jules Verne bid

It was all systems go this morning for Bruno Peyron and his crew on board the maxi catamaran Orange, after getting a favourable weather window for their Jules Verne Trophy bid. But just half an hour after starting from Ushant this afternoon, the tip of the mast broke off, forcing them to limp back to port.

Peyron crossed the official start line between Ushant and the Lizard at midday in 20-25 knot winds and calm seas. Orange was reportedly speeding along at 28 knots under gennaker when the top half metre of mast snapped off. No one was injured, no mast fittings were broken and there was no damage to sails, and the crew were able rapidly to recover the jammed gennaker and prevent a possible total dismasting.

Orange is now heading for Vannes, where her builders, Multiplast, are based. The yard is to unstep the mast and assess the damage.

The mast breakage cruelly mirrors an incident aboard Jules Verne rival Olivier de Kersauson’s trimaran Géronimo late last year. While completing final sea trials, the top part of Géronimo’s experimental lightweight ‘pitch’ carbon mast snapped off, and ever since the builders and designers have been puzzling over probable cause. Meanwhile, a new mast made from conventional carbon fibre was built at Espace Composites and is due to be delivered to the yacht tomorrow. After three days of rig tuning and trials, Géronimo is expected to be ready to leave early next week.

Before today’s ill luck, Bruno Peyron would have been the pacesetter in an interesting race between two hulls and three. Now it’s his turn to see if the broken mast can be repaired in time to leave this season (the latest feasible time this year would be the first week of March), but ideally to preserve a close separation between him and his adversary.