Dongfeng Race Team breaks mast, crew safe

Text by Jon Bramley & Agathe Armand
A day never to forget
A long time coming
Dongfeng Race Team breaks mast, crew safe Text by Jon Bramley & Agathe Armand
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Update #9 20:37 UTC

While everyone onboard remains in good shape considering the circumstances, the final miles to Ushuaia are anything but easy or relaxing. Concerns about the mast’s stability and a very tricky entrance to the Beagle Channel will be high up the list of concerns for skipper and crew.

Despite working throughout their day, which is now drawing to a close, the crew of Dongfeng Race Team have not managed to remove all the damaged parts of the broken mast.

The original mast rigging that holds up the remaining main section of mast is only in place on the port side.

By using other cables and lines from the mast, the crew are trying to secure the mast so that when they approach the difficult entrance to the Beagle Channel they are more able to manoeuvre with less risk of the remaining main section of the mast coming down.

This is not an easy job since as it is unstable, it has been impossible to send someone up the mast (who would also need to free climb up to that point to work). Consequently the broken top mast is still hanging down, and the mainsail still threaded through it.

As nightfall descends on Dongfeng, they are still 50 miles (estimated 5 or so hours at current speed of 12 knots) from the entrance to the Beagle South Channel in Chilean waters.

This is the narrow waterway that leads to the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, a further 60 miles to the east.

Volvo Ocean Race Control and the local MRCC, along with experts on the area such as Skip Novak, Whitbread legend, have been supporting Pascal Bidegorry and Charles Caudrelier's planning for what can be a tricky entrance.

Update #8 17:40 UTC

“I feel really gutted for the Dongfeng guys because they didn’t deserve this but this is always what can happen in this race. My best wishes for them that they can get a spare rig and get back in the race.”
Bouwe Bekking, skipper, Team Brunel

“We are very sad for the guys. I sent them an email when I heard to say that we were not far. I said we would rescue them if needed but we’d only take the cute ones!

“Not sure we would have been able to keep the pace they’re going at. It’s a real shame for Charles and the crew. It’s a relief to hear that they’re all OK and can go where they can be safe.”
Sam Davies, skipper, Team SCA


Update #7 15:40 UTC

We just spoke with Damian Foxall live from the Southern Ocean. Here’s what Dongfeng’s sailor had to say about the team’s progress as they’re sailing towards Ushuaia.

“All good. Everyone is still healthy. Few broken bits and pieces.

“We’re sure we’ll be able to recover the rig with what we have. We have just got to cut the Frac 0 off the back. 

“We’re still rotating through watches – we still have quite a few hours before we get to the coast. We’re slowly working through it but every single step we have got to be careful. Everything you do has a chain reaction. So we’re just taking our time and we’re making sure that we don’t make things more complicated than they already are. Last night was complicated enough; really a lot of potential for making things worse. At least everyone is safe and healthy.”


Update #6 13:00 UTC

The mast remains quite unstable on Dongfeng, as Damian Foxall explains: “We really cannot do much more to stabilise the situation right now. At some stage I think we are going to have to go up there and cut some stuff off.”

The main preoccupation of the crew, apart from how they get back into the leg if at all possible, is safety onboard.

“We have 4-5 metres of the mast flying over our heads just holding on by one halyard and the big fractional sail, the one we had up, which is flying around to leeward,” says Charles.

“We have to solve this problem as we cannot go to Ushuaia like that – that is my main concern now. Maybe we have to abandon the whole rig but I hope not. I’m not sure we can save our mainsail so this is what we will focus on in the next hours.”

Dongfeng has not officially retired from Leg 5 as yet and their skipper is still considering the possibility of the race crew continuing on from Ushuaia under sail once the rig has been fully stabilised and the boat checked, to sail back west and around Cape Horn, and on to the finish in Itajaí.

Finishing the leg in last place will score six points, a DNF (Did Not Finish) following an official retirement, scores eight points.

That’s only two points difference but two points that could make all the world of difference by the time this nine-leg race finishes in Gothenburg in June (don’t forget the lowest cumulative points wins).


Update #5 12:45 UTC

It's now daylight for the boat, and we've got a photo gallery of the incident:


Update #4 10:30 UTC

Genny Tullock speaks with Charles Caudrelier:


Update #3 09:50 UTC

The Dongfeng crew is now making headway to the entrance of the Beagle Channel, a strait on the extreme southern tip of South America. They’re aiming for the entrance of Bahia Cook.

The team will most likely reach the entrance of the Channel at nighttime, which is a tricky approach. Alicante Race Control is providing navigational support. Should they decide to go to Strait of Magellan, we will provide additional information too.

They’re focused on getting to Ushuaia for now, and Team SCA is 425 nautical miles behind them.

Update #2 07:40 UTC

Video from the boat:


Update #1 06:45 UTC

Volvo Ocean Race can confirm that Dongfeng Race Team broke its mast early on Monday (GMT, March 30) but fortunately nobody has been injured and there is no immediate danger to the crew.

The incident happened 240 nautical miles west of Cape Horn at 0315 UTC on Monday, in the final hours of the night onboard Dongfeng.

The crew reported that the mast broke above the third spreader, the top section of the mast. They are not planning to continue racing on this leg and are heading towards Ushuaia, Argentina, under their own sail.

Reached via Inmarsat, a disappointed skipper Charles Caudrelier said: “I’m gutted. As you’ve seen from the position reports we have been, on purpose, backing off a bit, not attacking in any way.

“The mast broke without warning, in about 30 knots of wind. We are unable to sail safely on starboard tack, but we are able to make reasonable speed on port tack. We will head towards Ushuaia and assess our options for getting to Itajaí."

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) is aware of the situation and is on standby to help if necessary.

We are in constant contact with Caudrelier and are establishing the full extent of the damage to ensure we give him the support he needs to deal with the situation.

We will give more information as it becomes available.