British sailor Conrad Humphreys motoring to safety after 'terrifying' ship fuel transfer during Route du Rhum

Plymouth sailor and three-times round the world racer Conrad Humphreys has been dismasted in the solo transatlantic Route du Rhum race. Humphreys, sailing a chartered Class 40, Cat Phones, was lying 12th in class after an earlier pitstop on the first night of the race from St Malo to Guadeloupe and was 380 miles east of the Azores when the rig failure happened.

“At the time I was reaching in 15-17 knots of breeze, I am not 100 per cent sure of what happened. I think one of the checkstays or the runners gave way, but certainly one of the cables. The mast broke in two places.”

“As you can imagine, I feel absolute devastation about what has happened,” said Humphreys. “All the rigging has gone. I had to cut it all away. We’ve lost it all. It’s very upsetting. We’d managed to claw our way back into it after our earlier pit stop. I thought I had a good chance of getting a good result. I dreamt of finishing this race – it’s such a fantastic race with a fantastic field.”

“I am devastated, very very sad.”

Humphreys tried to recover the mast but was unable to do so, and the Coastguard arranged for him to rendezvous with a cargo ship in order to get enough diesel to motor to Cascais on the Portuguese coast. But the transfer from alongside in the ocean well was difficult and risky.

The ship Federal Maas transferred 200 litres to him in pitch darkness. “It was pretty terrifying,” said Humphreys. “But the Indian captain was amazing. He and his crew kept getting the line on to my boat with jerrycans of diesel. They came alongside and they were obviously a long way up – around 10m above me – so to get the line down in those conditions and in the dark was just amazing. I can’t thank them enough.”

Even with the extra diesel on board, Humphreys difficulties were not over. “Conrad had a load of jerrycans and made a funnel from the top of a 5-litre bottle of water so he could get the fuel into the tank,” explained his technical operations manager, Hugh Fletcher.

“The problem is that there was a big following sea of around 4m and it was breaking over the back of the boat which made the whole platform unstable and risked getting water into the fuel tank.  But he’s done a brilliant job and managed to fill the tank and is motoring at six knots.”