In a few unfortunate moments the Vendée Globe solo round the world race came to a premature end for Irish skipper Enda O'Coineen. A sudden, unexpectedly strong gust at 35kts of wind overpowered his autopilot, resulting in two crash gybes leaving no time to get a running backstay on to support the mast.
In seconds the mast of Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland is broken, falling over the side of the boat.
Lying in 15th place in the famous round the world race, which represented the pinnacle of his lifetime of sailing and adventuring, O'Coineen had only just completed a series of necessary repairs 24 hours earlier, whilst sheltered in the lee of Stewart Island, at the very southernmost tip of New Zealand. Ironically only two hours previous to his mast crashing down, he had made a New Year's video, promising to recalibrate his natural affinity for risk.
Having just effected his repairs – principally to his autopilot and computers - and actually having profited from his experiences and his solid speeds in the Indian Ocean, O'Coineen today spoke of his deception and disappointment, which are felt all the deeper and harder because he considered himself to be in good shape to take on the second half of his round the world race:
“I am devastated. Things were going quite well. O'Coineen said, “I was in good shape. Having got this far I felt we could handle anything. There was just that little malfunction of the self-steering that set a whole train in motion. I have to accept responsibility. What happens, happens.”
In terms of his Vendée Globe, setting out on the 5,000 miles to Cape Horn, O'Coineen, 60, is fortunate to have been a little less than 200 miles SE of Dunedin when his mast came down. He cut is rig free but reported that he did not save the boom, or any part of the mast, and so has very limited jury rig options. He was heading slowly downwind towards New Zealand this Sunday afternoon.
“You roll the dice.” He told Race HQ in Paris after prefacing his description of the incident by wishing all a Happy New Year. “I was caught a little bit unawares. I was in 20-25kts of breeze and a very vicious 35kts squall came through and the self-steering malfunctioned just at the wrong moment. I did an involuntary gybe and then a gybe back. The boat was out of control and I was caught without the runner properly on and the mast snapped. I have to laugh because if I don't I will cry. The mast came clean off at the deck and in fact it was intact. But the whole rig went over the side. I had the difficult decision to make whether to try and save the rig or whether to save the hull of the boat.”
O'Coineen's humour, philosophy and his larger than life character, his predilection for wearing his big and passionate heart on his sleeve will be missed over the remaining weeks of this Vendée Globe.
“Look, you have to be philosophical. This sort of sailing is living on the edge. I have been doing this for 57 days and as the fella says if you are living on the edge you are taking up too much space. I was taking up too much space on the edge.”
“Ironically I had just done a little interview with myself for New Year. I celebrated with a small bottle of champagne. My alter personality asked me what my New Year's Resolution is. And my New Year's Resolution was to take less risk with my life. In business, in my life, I have taken a lot of risk. The risk enabled me to make enough money to buy this boat, to pursue the dream and to pursue my adventure. Bizarrely, only two hours earlier, I had recorded a video pledging to take less risk. And here I am. Risk is a four letter word, like a lot of meaningful four letter words in the English language.”
Of the 18 boats still actively racing, 29 having started in Les Sables d'Olonne on November 6th, some eight weeks ago, the leadership battle sees Armel Le Cléac'h having gained 43 miles in the 24 hours to 14:00hrs UTC. Second placed Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) will seek to minimise his time upwind on port tack because he has no foil to provide lift and traction. As the duo sail upwind in search of the E'ly tradewinds which, albeit light at 10-12kts, are to be found about 300 miles upwind, to their north. Thomson may be able to cut some miles back on his rival as the high pressure system to their east drifts south and therefore brings the more favourable easterlies with it as it goes.
In 2015 they were shipmates, co-skippers aboard Nandor Fa's Spirit of Hungary during the Barcelona Round the World Race. Today the younger New Zealander Conrad Colman is still gaining on Nandor Fa because the Hungarian skipper has a ridge of high pressure blocking his way. Fa was making under 10kts while Colman, 288 miles behind, was making headway at 11.3kts.
Of the ‘rivalry', Lili Fa, Nandor Fa's daughter, said on the Vendée Globe LIVE today:
“Conrad is like family. His wife Clara communicates with us all the time. Nandor cares very much about Conrad and always talks about him. They have a special bond, but both are racers and want to beat each other.”
EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-Face Ocean):
“I've decided to make my pit stop in Recherche Bay, Tasmania now, near Hobart, which is on my route, with an ETA around tomorrow evening, depending on whether I choose to make a night stop. It is important I make a stop whatever happens, especially given Enda's catastrophe this morning. I'll change the lashings if need be, repair the hydrogenerator and then attack the second half in very good shape hopefully. The pit stop may last hours or up to say 2 days depending on what I find aloft.”
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys):
“I have no air at all! The sails are flogging. There's nothing, absolutely nothing here. Not a breath of air! The wand is at a standstill so I'm stuck fast, unable to find a way out. What are the chances? A big storm for Christmas and becalmed for new year! What a cheek!”
Jordi Griso (team manager of Didac Costa-One Planet One Ocean):
"It's quite a symbolic moment to reach the halfway mark, perhaps even more so than rounding a cape or switching oceans. Passing the midway point shows you the true scale of the distance that remains to be travelled. Mentally this is an important moment. Didac is now moving closer to Les Sables rather than away from it.