Following Thiercelin's dismasting drama this morning, Soldini has diverted to offer support following concerns about Thiercelin's communication systems

In an early morning incident that stretches the boundaries of belief, Leg 3 leader Marc Thiercelin’s 60-foot yacht SOMEWHERE was dismasted this morning off the coast of Argentina in 30-plus knots of northerly wind and pounding head seas. Thiercelin, via COMSAT-M satellite phone, relayed the stunning news to his shore crew in France shortly after 1000 GMT today. At 1233 GMT (7:33 a.m. EST), after learning that Thiercelin was in danger of losing his communications due to the ingress of water flowing through a hole in his deck, race officials requested Giovanni Soldini to divert for Thiercelin’s position in the event that assistance was required. Soldini, for the second time this leg, was immediately off to the rescue.

In Punta del Este, the sight of the finish line for Leg 3 of the marathon event, race director Mark Schrader was informed of the dismasting at 1030 GMT. Schrader initially said that SOMEWHERE’s mast, which is stepped on deck in the fashion of the latest generation of Finot Open 60s, may have “jumped off the ball that [supports it], but that’s only a guess. At this time we just don’t know for sure. But Marc has reported that the mast may have put a hole in his deck. He said he wasn’t worried… He doesn’t think the boat is in danger.”

One hour later, however, Schrader had received a new status report. “Marc has cut the mast loose,” he said. “He was concerned that it might poke a hole through the hull. He also reported that he now had water coming through the deck [in the space vacated by the lost mast]. The hole is right over his nav station, which is now flooded. His computer is drenched. He’s trying to plug the hole but it’s extremely difficult to work on deck. At the present time, it’s too rough to attempt [erecting] a jury rig. Taking all that into consideration, we felt it was wise to request Giovanni to divert.”

At 1332 GMT, race coordinator Pete Dunning said Thiercelin’s position – which, remarkably, was still being broadcast by COMSAT MobileTrac service – was 49 degrees 24 minutes South, 61 degrees 15 minutes west. “He’s about 180 miles northwest of Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands,” said Dunning. “That’s his nearest sensible [port of call], especially with the north-northwest winds we believe he currently has. We’ve notified the authorities down there that he’s having problems, and they’re standing by to assist if necessary.”

Ironically, Soldini was the closest competitor to Thiercelin at the time of the dismasting. At 1335 GMT, Dunning said Soldini was roughly 180 miles southwest of Thiercelin and making 12 knots. Thiercelin had opened up his lead over Soldini overnight as the two Class I skippers beat to windward in stiff headwinds off Argentina. “We polled the fleet right after the news came in to let them know what had happened,” said Dunning. “We got a message back from Giovanni that read, ‘Received the news of the dismasting, tell us if you need anything.'” Like Thiercelin, Soldini was on an outbound, northeasterly tack, when the incident occurred. With Thiercelin possibly on the verge of losing his ability to communicate, the race office later felt it was prudent to send him to SOMEWHERE. “Plus, he was on a parallel course and already heading that way,” said Dunning.

The French press has been waging a war of words over Soldini and Thiercelin ever since the Italian skipper diverted course and rescued Isabelle Autissier earlier on this leg. Now, Soldini has once again been asked to lend assistance to a fallen competitor. The Around Alone media office will issue further reports when news is available as this latest incident on the race’s incredible third leg unfolds.