Two trimarans have capsized in the Transat Jacques Vabre, a skipper is injured, and another has dismasted after structural failure

Three rescue operations are underway this morning to try to retrieve crews from damaged or capsized trimarans in the Transat Jacques Vabre race. In a situation reminiscent of the disastrous Route du Rhum in 2002, the 60ft trimarans Sodebo and Orange Project set off their EPIRBs at around 0300GMT when the boats suffered catastrophic structural failures, and three hours later Foncia’s crew, Armel Le Cléac’h and Damian Foxall, reported that they had capsized 150 miles west of Brest and that Foxall’s was injured, with a suspected broken collarbone.

Thomas Coville and Jacques Vincent on Sodebo stated that the trimaran’s port float had broken away and the boat had been dismasted. The two skippers are safe but not in control of the boat, and a fishing vessel has diverted to stand by.

On Orange Project (an ORMA 60 trimaran, not the maxi multihull) Stève and Yvan Ravussin reported one of the beams had split apart, causing a capsize some 220 miles from Brest.

Conditions quickly worsened for the crews overnight as they encountered a cold front. Foncia’s crew said they had been sailing upwind at 10 knots and were waiting for the wind to veer to the north-west before their capsize in 35-45 knots of wind. Some distance behind them, Sodebo reported 7m seas.

The situation is being dealt with by the Transat Jacques Vabre race office, French CROSS and Falmouth MRCC. A rescue operation has been mounted to pick up the skippers of Orange Project. This may also be routed to Foncia, and the area is being covered by a helicopter.

The capsizes and structural problems in conditions the race office has emphasised were rough but not extreme will raise many questions about the durability of the ORMA 60 trimarans thought to have been addressed after the 2002 Route du Rhum. In that race, storm force winds eviscerated the multihull fleet: five capsized; seven more suffered structural damage; and only three of 18 starters finished.

In the aftermath, designers and sailors did some serious heartsearching and the construction of a number of boats was changed to introduce softer areas of core or skin to make the structure more forgiving. Once again, a Biscay gale in has exposed weaknesses in the ORMA 60s. Although less calamitous than the situation three years ago, these fresh problems are bound to have repercussions for a class that many believe has begun to stagnate commercially.