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Vendée Globe day 59: The 3 R's: Repair, Repair, Repair

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Vendée Globe, IMOCA 60 onboard
Vendée Globe, IMOCA 60 onboard

The ability to repair at sea is absolutely fundamental to completing the Vendée Globe solo round the world race. Michel Desjoyeaux, the only skipper to twice win the legendary singlehanded race, which forbids any kind of outside assistance, often speaks of the skipper needing to be able to deal with one battle each day – one fix, one problem – to stay competitive on the 24,500 miles course from Les Sables d'Olonne to Les Sables d'Olonne. Of the 18 skippers still racing on Day 59 of the race four different solo skippers are having their self reliance and repairing skills tested, some of them in extremis.

Conrad Colman has made a temporary fix, re-attaching his flailing forestay to the bow of his Foresight Natural Energy using a lashing which he managed to secure despite 50kt winds and huge seas. Some 1300 miles west of Cape Horn, Colman has been making slow, but steady progress to the north east this Tuesday afternoon after the most challenging period of his race yet. The pin which secures the primary forestay is reported to have been lost during a vicious storm between Sunday and Monday. When the forestay broke free his headsail quickly unfurled and the 34 year old Kiwi-American's boat was held on its side for several hours in huge seas and violent gusts of over 60kts. “He currently has the sail shredding itself in the wind as a flag from the top of the mast but the risk of dismasting has reduced. He managed to get out to put a length of 12mm dyneema as a supplementary stay from mast head to bowsprit and has 2 other lower forestays in place and a triple reefed main,” his shore team reported earlier today. The exhausted skipper told Race Direction that there came a point where he had just closed himself inside the boat and left it to take care of him. He has been recovering since. Colman is reported to have a replacement pin which he will try to replace when the winds reduce sufficiently. This is no simple task.

Eleven hundred miles west, in 13th place, the race's youngest skipper Alan Roura, 24, had to take emergency action last night when he broke one of his rudders on La Fabrique when it was struck by an object in the water. He was able to stop and replace it with a spare relatively quickly, in spite of the 40kts winds. Thirteen hundred miles east of New Zealand Roura reported: “I heard a big bang, went outside and saw the starboard rudder floating behind the boat. It had obviously been hit by a UFO. I had to inspect the damage. Water started to rise around my feet and then calves. I soon understand that I needed to react quickly. I got the boat heeled over to stop the water from coming in. The wind was up to 40-45 knots with a 6m swell. I did what I could to stem the ingress, but it was impossible, with very heavy seas. Ten minutes later the stern section was flooded. I was gradually sinking. Water was getting in everywhere. The boat was very unstable so I lowered the mainsail with the J3 on the wrong side and the keel to leeward to get her right over. I needed to fit the spare rudder. I threw the rudder in the water and then pulled it up to slot it into its housing. After 30 minutes of a huge struggle with the desire to save my boat, I managed to get it in place. The water had created a real mess inside and covered all the bags. I don't have any dry clothes. Everything is soaked. Fortunately the bag with the spare computer was dry, as the onboard computer didn't like the 50cm of water in the boat. My race against the others is over. I need to take the time to carry out repairs to bring my boat home safely to Les Sables d'Olonne. I'm not giving up. If I managed to get the rudder in place in such conditions, I should be capable of making it all the way around.”

In 15th, due south of New Zealand, Didac Costa, the Spanish skipper of One Planet One Ocean, is running out of sails. He has had to drop his mainsail after tearing it. He anticipates it will be some time before he can have conditions suitable to make the required repair.

The stress of negotiating the narrow entrance to the bay at Port Esperance in the south of Tasmania, where Sébastien Destremau is making a short pit stop, nearly proved too much. The French skipper struggled with the pressure and admitted he found himself ‘crying like a baby' for 15 minutes when he felt he could not pick up the required mooring under sail – as required by the race rules. He made an initial U-turn and headed back to sea despite his desperation to check over his rigging before the passage of the Pacific to Cape Horn. The manoeuvring proved successful and Destremau has climbed his rig, discovering that he has to make a carbon composite repair to a spreader. “The stress level to come all this way and try to get in with no charts, no detailed charts - there are rocks and fish farms – and it is very narrow channel – I did not like it,” Destremau recalled today. “It was a nightmare. I even turned around this morning and said ‘I am not going in'. I thought ‘I can't do this, I am going to smash this boat on the rocks. And believe it or not, I was so tired, so desperate, so disappointed that I cried. I was on the deck crying like a baby. I thought I am going to sail away and just take my chances. And good luck to me in the Pacific. I cried for a good 15 minutes. That was how tired and stressed I was. But now the boat is tied up I am good. I am fine.”

At the front of the Vendée Globe fleet Alex Thomson in second is 190 miles behind leader Armel Le Cléac'h. The British skipper of Hugo Boss has struggled at times to find the best of the light, fickle tradewinds. In third, Jérémie Beyou has gained more than 400 miles on the leaders since the Pacific. Now 400 miles, or about one day behind Thomson, Beyou was making 17kts this afternoon to the leading duo's speeds of eight to nine knots. Three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro Beyou said: “I have narrowed the gap a little. It had been a while since I was less than 1000 miles from the leaders. It was largely down to the weather. That has cheered me up. When I'm in good weather, I can use my phone or get data down to the computer. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 hours to get one file. On some days I have managed to get one or two and on others none at all. I don't have any major worries on Maître CoQ and can use all my sails. I managed to sleep last night and recharge my batteries, which is good as it has been very lively since Cape Horn. It isn't over yet, as I have a transition to deal with in a few hours from now. I don't know how that is going to go. If things work out, I'll be upwind after that along the edge of the high. I'll then have stronger winds to the Equator.”