A sail ripped beyond repair forces Transat Challenge yacht to quit from leg one

BP Explorer has officially retired from race one in the Challenge Transat 2002. The yacht, skippered by Alex Johnson, has been dogged by drama throughout race one but it was the prospect of facing the tropical storm Gustav, with a ripped mainsail that finally confirmed it was the end of the racing road for BP Explorer.

The plucky crew saw their final hopes shredded yesterday along with their main sail, which was torn beyond repair as the yacht was battered by strong winds. Today, Alex and the crew made the toughest decision a competitor can, to retire from the race.

Alex Johnson explains: “Safety is my main priority.” He continued: “Just to reassure everyone – we are in no danger.”

At the top of the agenda for any racing yacht is the safety of the vessel and the crew. The yacht is currently in reasonably good weather conditions but was on course to battle it out with winds predicted at over 70 knots. This is the time to make these types of tough decisions – not when you have no alternative in the middle of a storm.

Alex explains in a recent message to the shore-based technical team how the sail came to be damaged: “We split the main from luff to leech while hove too with three reefs and also a vertical tear near the luff.” In other words, the entire length of this enormous sail was ripped and incapable of dealing with the threatening force of Gustav, the North Atlantic living up to its cruel reputation.

Johnson’s leadership was praised by an earlier skipper of BP Explorer, Mark Denton who skippered the yacht around the world during the 2000/1 BT Global Challenge: “Faced with this situation, I would have made the same decision,” Mark explained. “I fully applaud Alex deciding that the safety of his crew was the main priority. He was in a no win situation and given the circumstances I would have made the same decision.”

The Race Committee has acknowledged the retirement and informed the rest of the fleet.

BP Explorer will now be able to use its engine to motor a course towards Boston that will keep it out of the way of the worst of the winds and seas. When the yacht does arrive in Boston the crew is set for a rapturous welcome, particularly by Team SpirIT who were diverted to assist earlier on in the race. Now they are out of race one they will be putting all their thoughts and concentration into preparation race two.

The news from the rest of the fleet sees BG Group and Logica still fighting neck and neck for first place, with BG Group just having the edge with one mile in front. Vail Williams is in third place still being hotly pursued by Spirit of Hong Kong, just 26 miles behind. However, with Gustav building in intensity and moving north-east the decision has now been taken by the Race committee to shorten the course by approximately 200 miles.

The first yachts are due to arrive in Boston on Thursday 12 September, during daylight hours.