Serious structural problems aboard Camper force the team to head to Chile for repairs

Camper has suffered major structural problems in her bow section and has been forced to head for Chile for repairs. The first announcement that Chris Nicholson’s team was experiencing problems came on Saturday night with the news that a forward bulkhead had come detached.

The boat was slowed down and repairs were made, but shortly after the team put the pedal down once again there were further problems including the detachment of secondary bonding on a longitudinal stiffener. Running low on repair materials, Nicholson’s crew decided to head for Chile to repair the boat.

Nicholson speaks from the boat

“We are 2,500 nautical miles (nm) away from where we are going, which is Puerto Montt in Chile, on the western coast,” skipper Chris Nicholson said. “It’s about 800 nm north of Cape Horn.

“What led us to this course is I guess like a classic Southern Ocean snowball effect where we had some problems with our bulkhead early on in the race, we repaired that only for that repair to fail again probably about three days ago.

“Then we were trying to stem the flow in terms of stopping the problem getting any worse. The bulkhead offers a lot of support to our longitudinals (hull supports) and we have to keep the longitudinals intact.

“Unfortunately some of the secondary bonding let go off the longitudinal and that’s basically when seamanship has to take over and basically call enough is enough.

“We are running out of spare materials to effect repairs at sea and the repairs are struggling to be effective so we had to slow the boat down immediately and assess the situation.

“We estimate it will be three days of repairs and then we will be on our way to Itajaí. So we will suspend racing once we get closer to Puerto Montt, do our repairs and get back in the race.”

Camper is the third boat in the six boat fleet to suffer major structural issues on what has been a punishing first week to Leg 5. Abu Dhabi was forced to return to Auckland for structural repairs shortly after starting and Team Sanya is limping back to Auckland after breaking a rudder.

In the meantime, Groupama lead Puma Ocean Racing by 45.8 nm, with Telefónica in third, 104.20 miles astern. All three boats have passed the central ice limit and are heading towards the final eastern ice waypoint.

Telefonica’s amazing footage of being wiped out twice by breaking waves drives home just how tough conditions are.

The freezing wind has been blowing 40 knots and gusting 60 for the past 24-hours. With huge breaking waves and an angry and confused sea state, all competitive thoughts have gone out the window as the teams battle to slow their boats in an effort to keep them in one piece. It will take another four to five days in similar conditions for the fleet to reach Cape Horn.

“Everyone is on the same page,” wrote PUMA’s skipper Ken Read. “We are certainly making the best of what could be classified as a ‘seriously full-on’ situation out here in the lovely Southern Ocean.

“The massive swells are… who knows… 30, 40, 50 feet tall. Ask anyone on any of the boats and I am sure you would find a different, but still very large number.”

For Ian Walker and his men on board fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) the torture of the leading trio is either a dream or a nightmare, as the Emirati team lie becalmed in the ‘roaring forties’ as they finally reach the western ice limit waypoint.

“We cannot help but look at the position and wind reports of the boats ahead to even wonder if we aren’t in the best place,” mused the skipper.

The unusual conditions for Abu Dhabi will last another 24 hours or so, when the team will continue to bleed miles, but they are ready and prepared to accept the worst the Southern Ocean can throw up further down the track. The team is now 822.50 nm in deficit.