Conditions described as 'infernal'

In big seas east of New Zealand Sebastien Josse’s BT was knocked down with the mast in the water for several minutes before it came upright.

The French Vendee Globe skipper has since found ‘considerable damage’: cracking to the coach-roof which is letting in water at a ‘manageable rate’ but he now plans to head north to see what kind of repairs he can make. He has not yet been able to assess the rudders.

Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) has seen his lead cut to less than 33 miles since the New Zealand security gate, Roland Jourdain has been nearly two knots quicker to the north west of Desjoyeaux between the position reports.

British soloist Dee Caffari has been piling on the miles, having a great 380 mile day to 1000hrs this morning in great, if wet conditions on Aviva.

Marc Guillemot (Safran) is heading to Auckland Island, an remote small archipelago 250 miles south of New Zealand’s south island to affect a repair to his mast track. Raphael Dinelli (Fondacion Ocean Vital) is heading north east and may be looking for quieter waters to make much needed repairs to his IMOCA 60.

Jean Le Cam (VM Materiaux) described the conditions as ‘infernal’ during this morning’s live radio broadcast session, ironically speaking at almost the same time as Sebastien Josse was calling his shore team in the UK, to tell them that he had been knocked flat by a huge wave.

Josse, lying fourth in the race, described briefly how the boat had been forced over, with the mast at more than 100 degrees, settled for several minutes before it emerged upright again. He is making an assessment of the effects of this knockdown when there is daylight, but meantime he has been heading north under bare poles, trying to escape the worst of the weather. He reported squalls of over 60 knots of wind. Four years ago today, Boxing Day, Josse was just getting going after hitting a growler on 23rd December.

His teams report this evening says that “The inside of the boat is in total disarray, and the conditions outside remain fierce – and too dangerous to inspect the rudders which have suffered some damage the extent of which is not yet clear. Down below, considerable damage is already obvious though – three separate cracks in the coach roof, including a longitudinal one which is leaking water in to the cabin when water comes over the deck, albeit at a manageable rate, and serious damage to the bulkhead that joins the roof to the deck around the hatch. The structural damage is not considered a danger to boat or skipper, but how much can be repaired, and how competitive Sebastien will be able to be for the rest of this epic race, is not yet known. Also a result of the mast being well under the water, the masthead wind instruments have been lost.”

Josse’s team say he will try to carry on his escape to the north, perhaps for up to 36 hours, working with his technical team on a repair plan. He aims to lift one of the misaligned rudders to enable him to set the staysail and make faster progress to the north. Everything in the boat has been thrown around, and as the skipper told his team “I can’t even find the camera to take a picture of the damage to send back!”

* After setting out from Kerguelen on 17th December, Dominique and Temenos II are reaching their goal. Contacted at midday a little over 24 hrs from the finish, the skipper was preparing to launch into a last gybe, which should enable him to make a direct course towards Fremantle. As a result he is expected into port tomorrow by his shore crew.