Not crushed...

James Boyd reports from on board the new Open 60 Pindar, which dismasted in today's Artemis Challenge

Wednesday August 8th 2007, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
For me sailing today on board Mike Sanderson's new Pindar in the Artemis Challenge round the island race against six other Open 60s was supposed to have been a mild warm-up and some boat familiarisation prior to Sunday's Rolex Fastnet Race where I had blagged the 'media spot' (making Moose and Brad Jackson tea and undrying their freeze dried...) Sadly a pleasant summer's day race around the Isle of Wight turn into an unfortunate tale of disaster.

Racing on the same course as us were the two super maxis, Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo and Mike Slade's new Leopard, and at the 1000 start gun these two giants made the normally speedy Open 60 fleet appear to be standing still as they tore off west up the Solent even in the patchy breeze.

On board Pindar we were sailing with Moose and Brad, a pregnant (we are told, not 'heavily pregnant') Mrs Sanderson, who was navigating, sponsor Andrew Pindar, newly appointed Team Director Nick Crabtree, project manager Nick Black and assorted Kiwi crewman such as ABN AMRO's Phil Harmer. Off the start line we were finding it hard to get in the 'groove', the boat only having sailed around three times before today. We faced potential embarrassment as initially we were overhauled by Jonny Malbon's Artemis (the old Pindar), sailing with Lady Gabriela Windsor as the on board VIP guest.

Numerous sail changes later we sought more breeze as close as we dared to the mainland shore and then hoisted the Code Zero bearing away towards Hurst Narrows and the Needles, showing bursts of formidable speed in the gusts. At this stage Guillermo Altadill's Estrella Damm was leading the Open 60 charge but off the Needles they appeared to round the wrong mark and Pindar was able to overhaul them moving into the lead as the chasing pack wallowed off Hurst. .

10-15 minutes after gybing for St Catherine Point we had changed down from the Code 0 to the J1, still in only around 10-12 knots of breeze. At this same time the rig on Pindar had been raked aft - the boat's secret weapon... Around 10 years ago the original Sodebo Open 60 was built with a rig that could be canted to weather like an ORMA 60. Lateral canting of the rig was subsequently prohibited by the class, however on Pindar, fitted with a substantial wingmast like the tris, the mast can (or could) be raked fore and aft by 5 degrees, thanks to rams on the inboard end of her twin deck spreaders and a third ram on whichever of the headsails is being used. Obviously letting the runner off is important when raking the rig forwards....

Some minutes after the sail change and the rig being raked, everything had settled down when there was a 'BANG' aloft (some of the crew reckon they heard two BANGs) and the rig came tumbling down. At the time I was rummaging in my camera bag just aft of the leeward (starboard) wheel as several hundred kilos of carbon fibre wingmast came hurtling in my direction. The exact turn of events is a little blurry but I think I narrowly missed being nailed by the already low boom. I was not hurt, however my nice Canon camera (as the pictures show) had its front lens smashed in...

For reasons that remain unknown - seriously - the mast had snapped neatly in two about 1.5m above the diamonds. The lower section was resting precariously over the cabin top, which thankfully wasn't stoved in in the process, hanging over the transom with the top half of the mast in the water, mainsail still attached to both.

After a short stunned silence and a head count - no physical injuries sustained - Mike Sanderson took charge of the clean up operation. We were told to be very careful what was cut so that we could check everything later to see what might have broken. With the rig clearly salvagable and with flat water to make the operation reasonably straightforward, we had to prevent the mast from being dragged aft and overboard. The crew tried to stabilise the mast on deck and get as much of the mainsail off as possible. Then as a group, we heaved the bottom section of the mast forwards, lashing it in place so that the spreaders wouldn't destroy the cabin top.

Next up was recovering the J1 - fully submerged in the water - and untangle the top half of the mast, also fully submerged, from mainsail and ropes, an operation that involved two of our valiant crewmen taking a plunge. Eventually we managed to drag the top section of mast aft and then manually heaved it on board over the transom.

While the dismasting is highly unfortunate it was the most damage-free dismasting we have come across. The mast break is neatly straight across the section and a joy of carbon fibre is that this can simply be scarfed together (obviously it will be ultra-sounded and tested to ensure that no additional invisible damage has occurred to it). The J1 and mainsail were also virtually undamaged. The rim around the cabintop is crushed slightly and will need fixing, the radar will need re-attaching to the mast and several stanchions were demolished - but otherwise nothing.

Sadly this incident means that I am now having to drive or take the train to Plymouth to see in the end of the Fastnet. This incident is particularly unfortunate for Mike Sanderson as the Rolex Fastnet Race was to have been the only occasion he might have raced his new Open 60 before assuming full time duties at Team Origin. It is also his and Brad Jackson's second dismasting in 12 months after they lost ABN AMRO One's rig over the side in last year's Sydney-Hobart. The

Pindar is entered in the two handed Transat Jacques Vabre this autumn and will have a new skipper who will be formally announced after the Fastnet (he is believed to be tall, curly haired and lanky and already involved with two other Open 60 teams this year.) We shall see.

For designer Juan K today's incident is doubly unfortunate. "This stretch of water is unlucky for me," he moaned. For it was around here that earlier this year the keel dropped off of Chris Little's Bounder, another of his designs.

Pictures from on board over the next few pages...

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