With just 650 miles to go to the finish having led most of the leg, Groupama loses her mast. Matthew Sheahan considers the chaos of Leg 5 (UPDATED)

Having dominated the leg from Auckland to Itajai Frank Cammas’ Groupama has lost its rig just 650 miles from the finish in Itajai, Brazil. The incident was reported at 1540 UTC and the crew were said to be safe.

The dismasting comes as a massive blow to the team that had not only led for most for the leg, but had shown new form in the last two legs and were in a position to seriously challenge Telefonica’s early dominance.

News this morning (Thur 5 April) is that Groupama plan to construct a jury rig and resume racing to Itajaí having reached Punta del Este at 0335 UTC on Thursday, 12 hours after dismasting.

Cammas, who was at the helm when the rig came down, said he heard a big bang and the mast fold in two above him.

“The mast had folded, the top part fell on the back of the boat, next to me, to leeward. The mast had broken in two, just below the first spreaders. It was very strange, we didn’t think an issue could come from there.

“We tried to deal with these things as quickly as possible, to stop the situation from getting worse. It was rather long as we had the two sails in the water, which acted like floating anchors and pushed hard on the broken tube.”

Groupama were 59 nautical miles from Punta del Este, and opted to motor to port. The team were considering shipping their spare mast from the Netherlands and stepping it in port, but this morning decided to continue under jury rig.

IT is not just Cammas and Co that will feel like they have been dealt a body blow. With just two of the six boats still racing, the race organisers will doubtless be wondering how this edition of the race has become such a demolition derby.

The race that has been dogged with breakages right from the start but Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajai has proved to be a total meltdown for the fleet. Of the six boats, only Puma hasn’t suffered a major structural failure on this leg.

Sanya is being shipped to Miami following a rudder breakage, Camper is in Chile for 3-4 days of repairs that must surely threaten their ability to arrive at the start line for Leg 6 in time, and Abu Dhabi has just announced that they have retired from the leg following serious structural problems and will be shipping the boat to the stopover port in Brazil.

Of those that remain on the course and heading for the finish, Telefonica had to take their pedal off the gas after a structural problem before stopping close to Cape Horn for pit stop repairs. Even before the Groupama crisis, their comeback has been nothing less than spectacular as they trail the race leaders Puma by just 35 miles.

With so much carnage around them as well as problems aboard their own boat it is unlikely that the prospect of a protest from the race committee that was lodged at the beginning of the leg will be upper most in their minds right now, but even stepping ashore in the next day or so won’t see the end of a leg that has surely been the most devastating of any Whitbread/Volvo edition.

The official line by the French team read;

It was at around 1500 UTC today that Franck Cammas announced to his shore crew that Groupama 4 had dismasted 60 miles offshore of the coast of Uruguay, whilst leading the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

When the incident happened, Groupama 4 was sailing upwind on port tack in a northerly wind of around twenty knots.
The mast broke level with the first spreader (around ten metres above the deck).
When the spar fell, bowman Brad Marsh suffered a slight injury to his forearm.
Franck Cammas indicated that he wasn’t requesting assistance and that he’d temporarily suspended racing.
Two options are being studied:
1/ To continue the race under jury rig towards Itajai, the finish venue, some 650 nautical miles ahead.

2/ To make for Punta del Este, wait for the new mast (stored in Rotterdam), rig it and then head back into the race from the point where they suspended racing (at 1500 UTC) to make for Itajai.

Are we expecting too much of modern race boats? Is design outpacing construction and is the Volvo pushing beyond human endurance? Read Matthew Sheahan’s blog

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