It was a weekend of high tension onboard IDEC as Francis JOYON discovered problems on the mast of his giant trimaran.
Friday was in all senses an apocalyptic day for Francis JOYON (FRA) on the 49th day of his attempt at the solo round the world sailing record. The almost by chance discovery of some serious damage to the fixation of his starboard shroud threw the skipper of IDEC into doubt and contemplation. JOYON climbed to the top of the 32-metre mast on three occasions in just a few hours, in cross seas, which shook him about violently. With a makeshift repair holding it temporarily in place, the offending shaft still seems to be supporting the load and, gradually, JOYON is regaining his confidence to the extent that this morning he slowly hoisted some more sail to put on some more speed, as the wind comes around to the northeasterly trade. Vigilance is still very much the watchword and caution still required. That can be seen in the mind of the sailor from Locmariaquer as he finds a compromise between risk and record. Injured, bruised, on board a yacht sailing to 60% of her capacity, JOYON has not given up.
Just two hours after climbing twice up the mast on Friday, JOYON tackled the climb again, in spite of a painful ankle, in order to secure the shaft, to which the starboard shroud is fixed, as best he could. What needed to be done was to block the spindle from working loose, as if it fell off, it would certainly lead to the collapse of the mast. "I blocked it as best I could with some Spectra"
explained JOYON, after trying in vain to screw it back up. This large spindle requires special tools and work conditions, which the singlehanded yachtsman at sea does not have. "I'll certainly have to go back up again to strap it with some ropes,"
continued JOYON, who found the time to chat with the makers of the mast, as well as the yacht's designers, Nigel IRENS and Benoit CABARET. From their conversations, there was some slightly reassuring news: "In the current state of play, the 32mm spindle still in place is enough to bear the load,"
summed up JOYON. "But we need to stop it from unscrewing at all cost..."
A little dab of ointment, some analgesics and JOYON forgot about his injured ankle and the bruises caused by being hurtled against the mast.
Weather advisor on land for IDEC, Jean-Yves BERNOT, has already included in his route calculations the damage factor that has just hit the giant red multihull: "I'm now working on a base of 75% of the boat's theoretical polars,"
he explained. "IDEC is sailing at 14 knots upwind, while she should be doing 18... the good news is that strong winds are forecast right up to the finish, and Francis won't need to hoist all his sail. The trade wind is well established and the route towards Brest remains the same, with the slight difference that IDEC will do it a little slower than planned. In three or four days he will have to negotiate a way through the Azores with a very strong high-pressure area. The west southwesterly winds will then be there for him. This is a step off point he must not miss, or he will find himself with northeasterly winds for the finish. The only unknown factor in my opinion is the boat's behaviour with the wind from astern considering the damage."
Following the drama on Friday, Saturday night was a quiet one for Francis JOYON (FRA) - now 51 days into his solo round the world record attempt - with no major incidents except a violent squall shaking IDEC about in the middle of the night. After spending 48 very difficult hours getting out of the doldrums, then having to deal with the starboard shroud fixation, JOYON finally managed to take it a bit easier and get some rest, which was certainly something he required. With the trade wind strengthening, it is now the sea state, which is more "aggressive"
in the words of JOYON, which will make the trimaran's headway tougher, with some violent slamming into the swell, which is becoming increasingly high. Then, there is the additional stress, knowing that his weakened mast is going to be put under more strain. There is no way for the moment he can carry out the "strapping operation"
around the damaged part at the start of this 52nd day at sea. There are now just over 2,500 nautical miles to cover, 2500 giant steps for IDEC and JOYON, both of whom are quite capable of handling such adversity.
"The wind was steadier during the night,"
explained JOYON, "And I managed to keep her going at an average of 16 or 17 knots, while getting a little rest."
Serene and measured in his words, JOYON nonetheless expresses the presence of the sword of Damocles hanging over them with the damaged mast. "I'm still upwind and the boat is banging around. With the strengthening trade wind, the seas are going to get rougher and I still need to find the right compromise to avoid increasing the risk of dismasting."
JOYON thus reduced the amount of canvas hoisted this morning. He has accepted not to hug he wind as closely as he probably would have done in normal circumstances. "I'm on a bearing of 345, while the direct route is 30,"
he explained. IDEC is going the longer way around, but this enables the trimaran to sail more comfortably and with some good speeds, as she was making more than 18 knots this morning.
The shaft holding the starboard shroud in place was blocked with the meagre means JOYON had at his disposal on board IDEC. Following talks between the singlehanded yachtsman and the boat's designers and the sailmakers, Samuel and Dominique MARSAUDON, one final attempt to secure the part is still possible. The idea is to wrap a belt around the mast, which would be strapped around the shroud fixation, limiting the strain on the spindle. It is therefore planned once again to go back up the 32-metre mast. But certainly not in the conditions he is experiencing today. JOYON will have to wait for calmer seas and for the boat to be making steadier progress before he tackles this operation to secure the fixation.
The Record To Beat
Record: Round the World, non-stop, singlehanded
Skipper: Ellen MACATHUR (GBR)
Dates: 28 November 2004-7 February 2005
Elapsed time: 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds
Distance: 21,760 nm
Average Speed: 12.66 knots
Trimaran IDEC - www.trimaran-idec.com
World Sailing Speed Record Council - www.sailspeedrecords.com