Groupe Bel retires

Keel issues too severe to continue in Barcelona World Race

Friday March 11th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

After arriving in Ushuaia on Wednesday evening Kito de Pavant and Sébastien Audigane and their team completed the full assessment of Groupe Bel’s keel damage. Sadly the keel, the canting mechanism and structure inside are reported to be too damaged to allow any chance to repair them on site and to resume racing safely. So they have decided to abandon the Barcelona World Race, officially informing the race management this Friday at 1736 GMT.

The Groupe Bel Team is now organising the return of the IMOCA Open 60 to Europe by cargo ship.

“Our round-the-world ends at the far end of the world”, said De Pavant, “an unfortunate end after two months of racing, three oceans crossed and the rounding of three capes. Stopping the race is obviously as heartbreaking for us sailors, as it is for those who share their adventures every day through what they have written and their pictures. This difficult decision was made with the support of Groupe Bel, which puts the safety of its men first."

"We are leaving most of the Barcelona World Race course behind us. Obviously, it is frustrating, since all that was left was the Atlantic and we had hopes of really continuing the fight to win the podium. However, we are also happy to be here, safe and sound. This whole story could have turned nasty!"

Sébastien Audigane added: "It's not easy to abandon a race, and particularly a round-the-world! Sailing is a mechanical sport, so this kind of damage does happen. It's part of our job. The main thing is that we are now safe! Nearly 70 days at sea, is no small thing, particularly after crossing three oceans. This Barcelona World Race with Kito was a magnificent experience for me. Despite these last difficult days, there is only one thing I want to do. I want to set off again and take part in the Vendée Globe. I must be a bit crazy! For the moment, we are still in Ushuaia so I can't plan towards the future, but there are many other races I'm interested in for the rest of the season."

De Pavant and Audiagne were in third position before their required 48-hour stopover in Wellington to repair their sails (gennaker and medium spinnaker). They then had to deal with the wrath of Atu a tropical cyclone which they emerged from in good shape overtaking Estrella Damm in the process.

With 300 miles to go to Cape Horn, Groupe Bel was up to fifth place and all appeared to be for a battle royal back up the Atlantic, until on Monday afternoon, abnormal noises coming from the keel-head alerted the du0, who noticed that it was moving backwards and forward in an alarming manner.

The two following days were particularly stressful as they tried to get their IMOCA into Ushuaia harbor as quickly as possible, since the keel threatened to come away from the hull at any moment. Rounding Cape Horn on Tuesday, was nonetheless a poor but real consolation for the sailors, punctuating the effective crossing of three of the world's oceans.

In Ushuaia, everything has been organised to lift  Groupe Bel out of the water. This operation could be carried out tomorrow during the day if the weather permits - it was snowing in Ushuaia this morning. It is now a question of finding a cargo ship as quickly as possible to bring the boat back to Europe. This is a complicated operation from the southernmost town in the world. De Pavant's aim is to get Groupe Bel back sailing as quickly as possible and to continue the IMOCA season with the European Pro Tour with crew in sight, which will leave from Istanbul on 3 July.

Groupe Bel is the third IMOCA Open 60 to retire from the Barcelona World Race, after President and Foncia which both sustained broken masts. This incident follows Groupe Bel's retirement from the Route du Rhum, also with keel problems.

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