To say that Bernard Stamm is hard on his boat is probably a huge understatement. The man knows how to drive his boat through calms and gale force winds, but the relentless push eventually takes it's toll.
When Bobst Group Armor lux arrived here in Salvador it looked battle weary. A few hours later when Thierry Dubois sailed Solidaires into port his boat looked immaculate, an indication of the different sailing styles of these two skippers. Thierry has no wish to beat Bernard Stamm by default, but if Bernard is not careful he may just hand the Around Alone trophy to Dubois on a silver platter. Fortunately standing between Stamm and his quest for ultimate victory in this race is a very competent shore team, but sometimes even they can be seen shaking their heads and wishing for more time drinking cold drinks and less time grinding carbon.
"We tell Bernard that he needs to be careful and take it easy on the boat,"
Benoit Lequin said looking at the broken keel, "but he is not the kind of person to listen. He is all about speed. Only speed. Sailing faster than anybody else."
Alongside Lequin is the badly damaged keel of Bobst Group Armor lux, a not so gentle reminder of how close Bernard came to faltering at Cape Horn. Stamm described the conditions as "boat breaking" and when he slammed down off a giant wave, break his boat he did. Now that the temporary repair done in the Falkland Islands has been removed and the layers of filler and carbon ground away, it obvious how close Bobst Group Armor lux came to real disaster. The lever arm inside the boat that is used to cant the keel from side to side was almost broken completely through. In addition, the carbon eye beam that runs the length of the keel to take the massive strain when the keel is cranked all the way to windward, has also cracked badly and come loose from the main foil structure. It's not good news, but without hesitating the shore team (and Bernard) piled right in to fix the blade.
"We have opened up the keel to 1.5 meters under the water and redone the lamination,"
Bernard wrote in an update for his website. "The temporary plates bolted on in the Falklands have been replaced by proper pieces fabricated by the Bobst Group team in Brazil."
For the last two days the team here have been working on the lamination which involves vacuum bagging new layers of carbon over the keel. Their precise work almost came to a disastrous end when someone cut the electrical cord thereby releasing the vacuum. The team were at lunch and returned to work to find what had happened. It seems as if someone wanted to get paid for the electricity, but had not thought to produce a bill, in fact the person had no idea even what to charge. The emergency generator was quickly pressed into service and the bill for the electricity later paid - all $10 of it.
The shore team will start adding micro-balloons this afternoon in order to fair the blade below the waterline. New plates will be bolted to the part inside the boat and a lot of prayers will be said. The keel just has to last until Newport. A new one is on order. If Bernard is chastened by how close he came to losing his keel, it does not show. "Although it looks like this last leg is somewhat of a formality, in truth it is longer than a transatlantic race in itself,"
he wrote. Stamm knows you can't win if you don't finish. When asked if he will push just hard enough to beat Thierry into Newport, Bernard replied. "It's very hard for me to do anything but go fast. I must win by as much as I can. No I am not afraid that the boat can't take it. I built this boat with my own hands."
Bonne chance my friend. You are an amazing sailor, I just hope that you can hold it together all the way to the finish.