Sojana back in Rolex Transatlatic Race after injured crewman is transferred to hospital for surgery

While several boats competing in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge have sustained damage since last Sunday’s start off New York, over the last 48 hours it has been the turn of their crews.

The injured crewman, reported on Peter Harrison’s Sojana, was Mal Parker, a highly experienced sailor and the upwind trimmer for Harrison’s GBR Challenge in the last America’s Cup. At 1100 GMT on Friday, the crew was in the process of reefing a headsail when Parker’s left arm was pulled into a winch, breaking it in two places. Parker had his broken arm splinted and immobilised, as Sojana immediately ceased racing and turned to make for the island of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon to the south of Newfoundland.

“Mal was transferred to a hospital ashore, where the arm was x-rayed, and he was given morphine for pain relief,” wrote Sojana’s skipper Marc Fitzgerald. “The arm will require surgery to pin the broken bones, which cannot be done at the facility in Saint-Pierre, so he will fly today to Montreal to undergo surgery there, before returning home to Tasmania to recuperate.” Parker is being accompanied by Sojana’s navigator Graham Sunderland. Since then, Sojana has asked the Race Committee permission to rejoin the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, and this has been granted. This morning, they were rounding Cape Race, the south-easternmost tip of Newfoundland.

On Friday, aboard the race’s on-the-water leader Maximus, Bill Buckley – the Kiwi sloop’s co-owner and one of New Zealand’s most prominent engineers – took a fall, dislocating his shoulder. The crew was forced to sail downwind in the opposite direction to the course for some hours while on-board medics relocated the limb. While Mari-Cha IV’s crew spent Thursday making repairs to the boat’s rig, Maximus’s co-owner Charles Brown revealed that his crew, too, has been experiencing its share of technical problems with the brand-new boat. “While running at up to 30 knots under full main and fractional gennaker, the switch for the canting keel failed during the gennaker drop, causing the keel to cant to the wrong side. Fortunately, our back-up keel control system allowed us to remedy a potentially dangerous situation for the boat and crew.

“Sometime later, our mainsail tore up the leech above the first reef point. Reefing padeyes, ripped from the mast, caused the crew a lot of downtime!” Brown added. This morning has seen Robert Miller’s 140ft (34m) Mari-Cha IV regain the lead on the water from Maximus, the noon position update showing the giant schooner to be ahead by 13.2 miles. With a depression due to pass to their north in the early hours of this morning, both boats have chosen their latitude carefully in order to be as far north as possible: to get close to the great circle and minimise the distance they have to sail while staying far enough south – away from the centre of the depression – to remain in fresh breeze.

From here, the run to the Lizard and on to the ultimate finish line off the Needles, Isle of Wight, should be fast, thanks to a favourable forecast predicting regular 20-25 knot south-westerly winds until the middle of this week.

At noon yesterday, Mari-Cha IV still had 1,293 miles to go before reaching the first finish line of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge off the Lizard. If she covers 400 miles per day, this will see her finishing on Wednesday afternoon (GMT), well within Atlantic’s 1905 race record time of 12 days 4 hours 1 minute and 19 seconds.

It is not only the maxis in the Grand Prix division that have suffered their share of boat breakage. Racing in the Classic division, Dr Hans Albreicht’s Nordwind suffered a broken spinnaker pole end fitting.

The night before last, the crewmembers on board Carlo Falcone’s 67-year-old yawl Mariella from Antigua, spent their time putting in and taking out reefs as they were chased by lightning and 35-knot squalls. The short mizzenmast on this Fife-built yacht was proving particularly troublesome, on one occasion its staysail tearing on the doghouse as it was rehoisted. It was replaced by an older staysail, and this worked well until the halyard block at the top of the mast sheared off. This, too, was successfully repaired, but still it was not over. As crewwoman Sophie Luther describes it: “With a fantastic, gut-wrenching splitting sound, the mizzen staysail plummeted to the deck for the second time today, but this time, unfortunately, it was due to the top of the mizzen mast snapping off just above the spreader. The broken top of the mast hung there limply, swinging around while the three crew on deck surveyed the damage and woke the others. Luckily, all our communications seemed to be unaffected by it, and we didn’t have to cut anything away. We all realised there was nothing we could do until morning except strap it all down and have a nice mug of hot chocolate.”

Elsewhere in the race, Mike Slade’s Leopard has now dropped to third on the water in Performance Cruising class 1 behind the substantially larger Tiara and Chris Gon Griepe’s Windrose. Similarly, Clarke Murphy’s Stay Calm is now lying third in distance to the finish in Performance Cruising class 2, astern of Whisper and her larger sister, the Swan 80 Selini. A. Robert Towbin’s Sumurun leads the Classic division.