Jean-Luc Van Den Heede explains how he set up a jury rig to make slow progress towards Australia
These latest, amazingly resolute reports from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede vividly illustrate the difficulties of the single-hander when things go wrong and the obstinacy and persistence required. He is making his way towards Melbourne to make repairs but says he hasn’t decided yet what to do afterwards.
‘First of all, thank you everyone for your messages of support. Please forgive me, but I can’t reply to all of them.
‘The night of my dismasting I was very worried about the possibility of the mast puncturing Adrien’s hull. Jacques De Roux (lost in the ’86 BOC) had told me about his shipwreck four years before with Skoiern. His mast had gone into the water, acted as a battering ram and succeeded in piercing the hull even though the hull was made of aluminium. The first thing I did was to attach the foot of the mast to Adrien as firmly as possible.
‘I detached everything that held the sail to the boom to protect it (it is fixed to the deck). Then I sawed the rods, in the process breaking several blades, got the stay retaining pins out and finally cut all the cordage, finishing with the running backstays.
‘I have kept the mast foot and the first 5 metres of the mast. I will try to send photos soon. When all that was finished, dawn was breaking on Adrien as she drifted. I was soaked because, in the emergency, I had neither put on my boots nor oilskin trousers. When all the rigging had sunk into the depths I heaved a great sigh of relief and went and changed.
‘It was impossible to sleep! I brooded over the situation. I was drifting towards the Antarctic and I thought that as the wind was going to veer to the south-west, so it was in my interest to tackle the problem straight away. Clearing up the shambles on deck, then my hands, full of carbon splinters.
‘Preparation of the spinnaker pole: 2 blocks for the halyards, 2 forestays taken around the cleats to the winches, 2 backstays taken on the mast chain plate, 1 forestay taken up on the asymmetric spinnakers’ tacking block, 1 backstay on the end of the boom, which was the highest point.
‘Single-handedly lifting this spinnaker pole, which is 9m long and weighs about 40 kg, was not easy and without the use of the boom I don’t know how I would have done it. Another advantage, the spinnaker pole fixing point was made on an axis at the summit of a tripod and this axis could go right up to the vertical. I did that just in case… It all went up slowly pulling on one side and giving a bit of slack on the other. We were right in the middle of a storm and the sea was quite considerable. When my spinnaker pole was vertical… what a sigh of relief.
‘All I had to do was to hoist the Celerant Consultant staysail and Adrien set off, wind abeam, at 3 knots. I’ve run 70 miles since yesterday. I shall aim for Melbourne, one of Australia’s biggest towns. I shall do all I can to look after my jury rig and remain independent as long as possible.’
‘Another degree travelled slowly in the right direction. Unfortunately, this evening the wind will go round to the north, which isn’t at all helpful. I shall certainly be heading back to the west while waiting for a more favourable change in its direction.
‘Coming back to my dismasting: as I have already told you, I was waiting for a storm and already under three reefs with the staysail, so a bit under-canvassed. Night had fallen and Adrien was making 7 knots in a fairly well-formed sea. But nothing worse than I had previously been through.
‘Suddenly on falling into a wave trough, I felt something abnormal… On putting my nose outside I noticed that the rigging was slack. The carbon mast had come down a good 20 centimetres. There was no longer any space between the mast jack fitting and the aluminium foot.
‘I have taken a photo of the foot which I will send as soon as I can. At the moment there is too much swell and the standard B will not lock onto its satellite.
‘Obviously, I lowered everything. The mast waved around and I couldn’t tighten the stays sufficiently. The base deteriorated more and more and after about half an hour, the mast came down…
‘The rest you know.’