'Relief' at repairs and contingency plans

Brian Thompson, the skipper ofBahrain Team Pindarcompeting in the Vendée Globe around-the-world yacht race, has reported a problem with his boat’s keel. In his daily message the British skipper, currently fifth in the race, said that the keel angle was ’22 degrees on the wrong side’ and that the compartment housing the only working ram on board was ‘full of oil’. He goes on to write about his relief at fixing the problem and contingency plans.

Thompson said: ‘Last night was windy with a big sea. I woke up at 5am with the strange impression that the keel bulb had fallen off, which I put down to dreaming about Bilou’s predicament. Then I looked at the boatspeed, only 9 knots and the boat was heeling over a lot in 24 knots of wind, so something must be wrong, if it had been the bulb we would have been upside down by now. I checked the keel angle and it was now 22 degrees the wrong side.

‘I looked at the keel through the inspection port and indeed, it was on the wrong side, and then I looked at the only working ram on the port side and my heart sank, the compartment was full of escaped oil from the ram. Not only that but the container under the sensor cable was full of oil. It was the opposite sensor that had leaked on the starboard side, making it inoperable, and this was unlikely to be fixable. This could be BTP out of the race, 2,500 miles from the finish, it cannot be happening!

‘The keel was now freeswinging in the North East Tradewinds, 1,200 miles from any landfall, and with a lot of stormy sailing to get double that distance to the finish. I put another reef in the mainsail and furled up the J3 to reduce the heel angle.

‘I then called Caraboni, the ram makers and Nick Black, boat captain, to come up with some options, and set to cleaning up the oil, both to save it for further use, and to find out exactly where the leak was coming from. It took about an hour of pumping out and mopping up to get the area spotless again, and I could then see where the leak originated from. It started from one of the big hose connections on the inboard side of the ram and travelled down the length of the ram to drop into the container under the sensor. On getting out the spanners I found that the hose connection was slightly loose.

‘So that was a massive relief, it was fixable. I just had to put more oil in the reservoir and pump the ram up to the centre. I monitored it carefully and there does not appear to be any more leaks, and the sensor is fine. That was another close call and now I have three litres less clean oil. I think it is now not possible to fill up the starboard ram again, and so I only have the port ram to the finish. I had better monitor it ever more closely now!

‘After this repair I had some chats with Nick, and Caraboni had come up with a ‘get you home fix’ if the port sensor started to leak as well, hopefully won’t need to do that, but it is good to have the plan ready. Then I put some more sail up and got a good nap on the beanbag to get my energies back.

‘Otherwise very squally conditions in the morning and in the afternoon the skies cleared and the wind dropped. That is a similar pattern to yesterday, and it seems like the nights are the windiest times. Want to try to get up to the high pressure and cross it as quickly as possible to get into the downwind conditions on the other side. We are still hampered by the lack of keel cant, but I am doing my best to hang on to Sam and Marc ahead, and stay a safe distance ahead of Dee.’