Autopilot Failure on Saga forces early return to port

Less than 24 hours into the second leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sage are back in Freemantle.

After a worrying night of repair work on SAGA INSURANCE on Saturday, during which the shore team tilted Saga at 90 degrees to inspect and repair the damage to the boat’s sail drive, Sir Robin was able to make the start line, crossing in 2nd place, under half a boat length behind Bernard Stamm.

The yachts headed west to line up a passage past Cape Leewin to the south. However, during the night both the autopilot systems on SAGA INSURANCE failed and refused to re-start.

After many hours assessing the problem onboard throughout the night, Sir Robin took the difficult decision to head back to Fremantle and meet his shore team back on land. Sir Robin will therefore have to comply with the minimum 48 hour time penalty for receiving outside assistance, putting him well behind the fleet from the off. He was forced to helm SAGA INSURANCE throughout the night and is therefore completely exhausted.

On arriving back at the start, Sir Robin commented, “It is in my nature to be upbeat about these things. Better to have this problem now rather than a week’s time. We had specialists onboard this morning who identified the problem. It is not something I would have been able to do alone, so it was the right call coming back. The wiring to the autopilots wasn’t big enough to take the power. It was like pushing lots of water through a tiny pipe. I’d had a good start and was getting the storm jib out when SAGA INSURANCE involuntarily tacked. Not knowing the reason at that stage, I carried on and it happened again. Both pilots switched off. I sat down and had a drink to think it through and came to the conclusion that I’d kill myself if I carried into the Southern Ocean without sorting it out properly.

Now that we have identified the problem it explains a lot of the issues we had in the last leg, so finally we know. It actually makes me feel a lot more confident. I’m not worried about starting after the others. We all have a long way to go, and we just have to get on with it. Or at least I will after everything has been fixed and I’ve had some serious sleep!”

Knox-Johnston was met by his shore team and technical staff after rounding Rottnest Island, ten miles off Fremantle. He officially suspended racing at 08:00 local time (23:00 GMT) He will restart the race at 0800 Wednesday 17th at the same place.

Picture: OnEdition