Photo of badly damaged rudder

From Sébastien Josse today (Monday, 29.12.08): “Today at around 0500 GMT the wind dropped enough for me to lift the rudder system, and check what the problem was. I quickly discovered that the issue was on the port rudder and understood why the two rudders were not in line anymore.”
 The starboard rudder is undamaged, but the port rudder which would have been fully exposed to the crashing waves when the boat was upside down is badly damaged.

The bond between the carbon and titanium fitting placed at the articulation point between the rudder head and the blade, which receives the transmission bar linking the two rudders, has been broken under the extreme forces of the waves battering the boat whilst it was upside down. This failure explains the misalignment of the whole steering system, preventing BT from sailing at more than 10 knots and making a passage of the Pacific Ocean one risk too far to take.
The fitting that has failed is a complex element made of titanium and carbon, moulded and glued under pressure. It is challenging to laminate even under normal working conditions, and there is no possibility for Seb to repair that crucial element onboard. The result being that even if there was a spare rudder onboard, BT could not easily continue as she could only sail on one tack. Considering the strong chance of another storm before Cape Horn, with the much greater risk of losing control, and breaking the boat even more, and also in a place where rescue is nearly impossible, it is just not safe or wise to continue. “If the Pacific Ocean was behind us and not in front, maybe it would be possible to slowly make our way to the finish line regardless of performance, but that is not the case”

 “These last few days since the capsize, my objective was definitely to continue the race, even if my reason for being in this race was purely to win. Not having total control of the boat means there is no way I can go back south and head for Cape Horn without gambling with my safety and that of the boat. If the boat starts to surf and I cannot prevent a wipeout because of the failed steering system, it can lead to a dismasting in a matter of seconds, not forgetting the coachroof is still quite weak and could easily be completely broken in such circumstances. Abandoning the race and heading for New Zealand is of course a huge disappointment not only for me. Now I try to to look forward, and to winning the IMOCA races in 2009. I will plot my course to New Zealand now.

”I am very disappointed, not just for me, but for everybody that has given seconds, minutes, hours and months to this project – the ‘wet’ team, the ‘dry’ team and all the sponsors especially BT and Renault. We started two years ago, and we were one of the teams in the best shape on the start line in Les Sables in November, and we can see that in the results of the race until just a few days ago. The Vendée Globe is one of the hardest challenges in the world, sometimes it lets you pass, sometimes it breaks you. I am just very sorry we can’t go to the end this time.”

Auckland, New Zealand, is just over 1200 miles away, but Seb will have to climb further north first to get around the top of an anticyclone and thereby allow him to sail downwind towards NZ. Only being able to use one rudder will restrict his speed, but he should be able to safely make it to land without assistance in 7 to 10 days time. The BT shore team will be there to meet him and decide the best method for repairing the boat and bring the BT IMOCA 60 back to Europe in readiness for the IMOCA 2009 season that kicks off in June alongside the BT Extreme 40 racing campaign and Ellen and BT’s sustainability activities.

Photo taken by Seb shows the extent of the damage after BT capsized in the storm