Sir Robin ponders boat strength after news of capsize

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston now ponders the safety of his own Open 60 as Alex Thomson’s keel fails:

“The news that Alex Thomson has had to abandon his boat Hugo Boss in the Southern Ocean is only relieved by the fact that he is safe. His boat was one of the best prepared for the 2006 Velux5Oceans race, and the fact that he has suffered a mechanical failure is a tragedy. This was not a new or experimental boat. It is a well tried one with plenty of miles beneath its keel, so for a major mechanical failure either something was slowly weakening or there was a sudden abnormal strain, but we may never know the answer to that now.

This also means that those of us at sea in the race are looking at our own keel arrangements and just wondering how secure they are, but few of us can give an answer. We are seamen and sailors, not engineers and designers. And not qualified to say whether what we have is safe or not. We take to sea with what we are given but at the back of our minds is always, ” what happens if?”

This is not the first rescue of this type in the race. In the first event in 1982 (then known as the BOC Challenge) Tony Lush was picked up by fellow American Francis Stokes between Africa and Australia, and on the next leg Englishman Richard Broadhead beat back for 3 days to rescue French Navy Commander Jacques de Roux whose boat had been holed. (This was the incident that led to the adoption of compulsory watertight doors for this race) In 1990 Bertie Reed picked up fellow South African John Martin after his boat had hit an iceberg. It is an axiom in these races that the nearest assistance will probably come from another competitor, and, apart from some excellent exceptions by the Royal Australian Navy it usually has and it has happened again. (Mike Golding onboard ECOVER has abandoned his race and is on route to rescue Alex.) The good news is that Alex is safe and it won’t be long before he is out racing again. “