Jonny Malbon has retired from the Vendée due to ongoing problems with his mainsail

Jonny Malbon (Artemis) has retired from the Vendée Globe due to ongoing problems with his mainsail. Artemis’s mainsail began delaminating three weeks ago, apparently due to a problem with the adhesion between the scrim and fibres. Over the past 24 hours the sail broke down further, with a one metre-long vertical tear developing as the final taffeta layer also began to disintegrate.

The damage is so severe Malbon cannot repair it onboard – as he explained during yesterday’s radio broadcast: “It’s getting worse and worse and worse. I simply cannot repair that sort of damage, I’ve never seen anything like it before, I don’t have enough materials or glue or I haven’t got enough hands.”

Artemis has been racing in 12th place and is currently 300 miles south of New Zealand. With the isolated Pacific Ocean still ahead and no landfall until South America, Malbon and his team have assessed the situation and decided that his best option is to retire and head for the South Island of New Zealand.

Artemis is also suffering a damaged starboard rudder, following a collision with a whale several weeks ago, which ? combined with his mainsail issues ? would make sailing upwind near-impossible. Previous issues, such as difficulties with his watermakers and an ongoing battery charging problem, are not in themselves race-threatening, but combined with the lack of mainsail could become deeply problematic over time.

Jonny commented: “I am absolutely devastated. We (AOR II and I) have been through so much since the start and survived it all – I think I always imagined that if I went out of this race it would not be something I would have to weigh up and decide, it would just be something that happened and be beyond my control.

The thing with this is that I could carry on for a bit but it is only a matter of time – it is no longer if but when the mainsail will just disintegrate completely, so heading out past New Zealand back into the Southern Ocean is just not feasible.

My heart is telling me to go on but my head is telling me I have to stop and in the end it is true – I have no choice. Words cannot describe my disappointment that this has come to an end.”

Malbon, 34, was competing in his first Vendée Globe on the Rogers-designed Artemis II, and becomes the 16th skipper to abandon this year’s race, with over half of the 30-strong fleet now having retired.