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Nagel’s AkzoNobel suffer mast damage

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Calm before the storm: Emily Nagel’s team suffered a setback in the Southern Ocean yesterday (Photo by James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team AkzoNobel, the Volvo Ocean Race team of Bermudian Emily Nagel, suffered damage to the yacht’s mast and mainsail when a gybe in very strong winds and gigantic seas went wrong yesterday.

The Dutch syndicate are presently racing through the Southern Ocean from Cape Town to Melbourne on the third leg of the round-the-world race.

The gybe ripped the mainsail track from the back edge of the mast, broke several of the mainsail’s carbon battens, and punctured the sail itself in several places. Despite having to slow down and wrestle the enormous sail to the deck in 45 to 50-knot winds and gigantic waves the international crew of seven men and two women has since been quick to assess the damage and formulate a repair plan.

Working in consultation with the team’s technical shore crew and experts from the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard maintenance facility, the sailors have come up with a possible repair scenario to get them back racing at full speed as quickly as possible.

The mast track is only missing in one place — rather than two, as the sailors had originally feared — after it broke during the windy crash gybe deep in the Southern Ocean close to the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone. That may mean that the crew can reattach enough of the track using strong epoxy adhesive to eventually be able to use the mainsail at full hoist.

Yesterday, in winds gusting up to 45 knots and massive rolling ocean swells, part of the crew concentrated on sailing as fast as possible using just headsails, while the others worked on the repairs to the mast and to several of the horizontal carbon battens that stiffen the sail and help it keep its shape in the wind.

A three-metre section of track at the bottom of the mast has been removed, sanded and a repair made to the hole at the top where a locator bolt will be inserted today. Ratchet straps will then be used to hold the section in place while the adhesive sets.

The sailors will also have to repair the damage to the mainsail and reinsert the battens before they attempt to hoist the enormous sail.

“If all that all goes to plan we could be up sailing again at a 100 per cent,” Chris Nicholson, the watch captain, said. “But it’s going to take time, and we’ve got to be careful.”

Team AkzoNobel were in fifth place yesterday evening.