Keel failure causes capsize

British solo skipper Alex Thomson is in trouble in the Southern Ocean, during leg one of the VELUX 5 Oceans. At approximately 03.30 GMT this morning, his yacht HUGO BOSS was sailing at 18 knots, in 30 knots of wind, when the keel suffered extreme structural failure and the boat capsized. The race office has alerted fourth placed competitor Kojiro Shiraishi (JPN) aboard Spirit of Yukoh, in case Thomson should require rescuing. Thomson is unhurt and is now working with his team to bring the keel under control.


Thomson, one of the favourites in the VELUX 5 Oceans race, was almost neck and neck with second placed Mike Golding (GBR) when the incident happened, with just one nautical mile separating the two boats. He was sailing downwind, around 1000 nautical miles south of Cape Town, South Africa, with three reefs in the mainsail in order to avoid over-powering the boat.


 “I was in my bunk grabbing a quick power kip when I was suddenly thrown across the cabin as the boat broached. I ran up on deck and went to ease the mainsail but nothing happened. I then went to try and cant the keel, but again nothing happened. By this stage the boat was leaning right over on its side with the spreaders in the water, so I went back down below to look inside the keel box. The section which attaches the rams to the keel had completely snapped off and the keel was swinging freely. I went back up on deck with the boat still on its side. I took all of the sails down and finally the boat righted itself.”


“I can’t believe it, I am absolutely gutted. I have learnt so much already in this race about how hard to push the boat and when to hold back, in order to maintain the right balance between speed and safety. To have a problem with my keel at this critical stage in the race, something which I have no control over, is absolutely devastating.” 


Open 60 yachts are some of the fastest and most high-tech yachts in the world, in the case of HUGO BOSS, using hydraulic rams to cant the keel from one side to another in order to increase performance. The keel can be angled 40 degrees into the wind, counterbalancing the yachts’ heeling angle much more effectively than traditional keels. 


Thomson is working with his shore team to resolve the problem and a further statement will be issued once more information is available.


Dubbed the ultimate solo challenge, the VELUX 5 Oceans is a 30,000 nautical mile single-handed yacht race, taking the skippers through some of the toughest and most extreme conditions on the planet. Thomson was en route from Bilbao (Spain) to Fremantle (Australia) when he ran into trouble and where the first yachts are expected to arrive around 6 December.