"We were incredibly lucky no one was killed"

Maximus crewman Ian Treleaven recounts their terrible dismasting that left five crew seriously injured

Wednesday December 27th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australasia
In the early hours of this morning (local Aussie time) Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours contender, Charles Brown and Bill Buckley's 98ft Maximus, suffered one of the most catastrophic dismastings we have heard about in recent years when her forestay broke causing the mast to come tumbling back down on to the crew in the cockpit.

The dismasting occurred at 0300 local time, as her crew were on deck preparing for a tack. As crewman and prominent Sydney-based yachtsman Ian Treleaven explained: "We had a no3 jib up and full main and we felt we needed to go to a reef. We had had a reef in earlier in the night and the halyard had jammed when we had pulled it back up, so we had to tack back inshore to get a guy up the mast to try and clear that. It happened just before we went to do the tack, we hadn’t adjusted anything, we hadn’t done anything - it just let go."

At the time Maximus was on starboard tack and according to Treleaven was "going very nicely." They were sitting on 12-12.5 knots upwind and in good shape, sailing in 28 knots relatively close to the New South Wales coast (compared to ABN AMRO One whic was much further offshore in stronger winds.) The sea was lumpy but there weren't any big or breaking waves.

Treleaven believes it was the forestay fitting at the top of the mast which caused the towering carbon fibre spar to come tumbling down towards them. "I heard the crunching and I was down to leeward getting ready for the leeward traveller. I hit the deck and the boom must have got me in the back of the head and just pushed me into the deck. I landed on a winch and it stopped doing any serious damage to me."

Treleaven was knocked unconscious and suffered a head injury that bled profusely. "Of all five guys I made the biggest mess with blood everywhere, but I am the least injured." At the time of our conversation, while he was ashore in hospital, the wound was still bleeding badly.

At the time 12 of Maximus' 23 crew were on deck, with one watch down below. Volvo Ocean Race veteran Jeff Scott was on the wheel with the rest of the crew assuming their positions ready for the tack. Of the injured crew Treleaven was on the traveller, while George Hendy was down on the leeward runner, ready to take up, Martin Hannon was on the grinder for the runners and Glenn Atrill was on the weather runner, ready to ease it. David Mundy, who was the worst injured, subsequently airlifted off the boat with a broken leg along with other injuries was on the grinder for the headsail.

Treleaven continued: "The guys sitting on the weather side of the cockpit forward the wheel got away without any injury because it fell behind them. It fell straight down the line but they were to weather of that."

Fortunately for the crew in the cockpit the descent of the mast towards them was broken by the gear standing proud of the cockpit, such as the pedestals and the wheels. "We were protected, but people just got pinned by it," said Treleaven.

After the dismasting the crew's training kicked in. "One guys was designated as the first aid guy and made sure everything was under control," said Treleaven. "We did a head count as soon as it happened because in the confusion it is easy to miss people going over the side. Then the injured people were taken down below and two guys worked on those guys getting them right. The biggest problem was that when the mast came down, it wiped out all the communications at the back of the boat."

The mast head broke over the stern of the boat and the main and jib were lying all over the cockpit. All of this was cut free while the boom and remainder of the spar were left on deck. Unfortunately in the process the broken top of the mast damaged the rudder and subsequently a sail became wrapped around the propeller. "We had to go over the side and we couldn’t do a lot of it until daylight, so we just left it there until daylight, trying to make sure it didn’t do any damage. The other thing is that it is all hydraulically drive and all the hydraulic fluid leaked out and made it a bit hard."

Maximus has this afternoon made it into Ulladulla and will then head up to Sydney 100 miles away. This is the second mast the Kiwi maxi has dropped in the last two seasons, the first occurring at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia last year.

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