A snapped mast has forced a second yacht out of the Governor’s Cup race between South Africa and St Helena.
The skipper of Ray of Light, Michael Kavanagh, had to climb the mast unaided while the yacht pitched in waves off the coast of Namibia.
“We are all devastated,” said Michael. “Why this happened we do not know yet. We have all the pieces, so when the experts get to take a look we will no doubt be able gain more insight into the failure.”
Another yacht, Black Cat, has had to make for Walvis Bay in Namibia after losing power to most of its systems, including VHF radio. Skipper David Immelman told race organisers he was hoping to make repairs and continue to St Helena.
The crew aboard Unwind retired from the race on Christmas Eve after reaching Yachtport, in South Africa’s Saldanha Bay, with rudder problems.
They too still hoped to sail to St Helena once the steering was fixed.
The dismasted Ray of Light had steered a course up the African coast, well to the east of the main fleet, meaning it had only a short journey to the port of Luderitz.
“We had worked hard to get ourselves into a north easterly position and our race strategy was starting to play out nicely,” said skipper Michael.
“We had wonderful SSW breeze on the afternoon of 25 December, initially up to 25 knots. On the evening of 25 December our routing suggested that we should push north for another 30-40 miles before turning for St Helena.”
After a “beautiful” night’s sailing, the yacht was turned towards St Helena, but the autopilot steered away from the set course and the spinnaker began “flogging”, said Michael.
“I re-adjusted the auto pilot to steer more to starboard and the spinnaker set. I then altered course to port again at which point the boat heeled over and there was a loud bang.
“The top section of the mast had fallen over and was now dangling in the wind, the main doubled over and the spinnaker in the water.
“The forestay had collapsed and the end of the spinnaker pole was in the water with the spin still attached.”
As the crew attempted to bring the spinnaker under control, it streamed out from the mast.
“We were concerned that the broken mast section would come crashing down as the boat rocked on the waves.
“However, it was held in the air by five halyards and electrics at the break. We steered the boat downwind as there was no forestay while contemplating our next move.
“I realised that I had no other option but to climb the remaining mast section. As I had no halyard to go up on I had to free climb. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do.”
With holding repairs in place, the crew decided to make for Luderitz – where they were welcomed by a large pod of dolphins.
As they cleared customs, a French yachtsman offered to help, and then climbed the mast with tools in his pocket and a diving knife attached to his leg.
He made it possible to lower damaged material to the deck, then helped set up a jury rig – a temporary arrangement to allow a boat to continue sailing with a broken mast.
“We now face a new challenge, to get our crew and vessel safely back to Cape Town,” said Michael. “We are grateful nobody was injured. All are in good spirits and contingency plans are being discussed.”
Race leader Banjo was 971 nautical miles from St Helena at 20.59 hours on 27 December 2012, giving only a narrow lead over Sandpiper 2 – which was 982 miles from the island at 22.02 hours.
The St Helena crew aboard Patches lay in fifth place of the six remaining yachts in the racing monohull class. At 1900 hours, they were 1,215 nautical miles (NM) from St Helena.
JML Rotary Scout, with two Saint scouts aboard, was 1,123 NM from the island at 20.32 hours, putting the yacht in third place of eight remaining yachts in the rally multihull class.