Two years in the making, a revolutionary $7.7 million racing yacht is currently stricken in the Atlantic after colliding with a submerged object.
Briton Alex Thomson and co-skipper Neal McDonald were a third of the way into the 4,350-mile Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre, France, to Salvador, Brazil, when the sleek 60-foot yacht hit the unidentified object while sailing at 25 knots on Sunday.
“If you were to get into your car, close your eyes, and drive at 40 miles an hour into a brick wall … that’s what it felt like,” said Thomson of the collision, which occurred about 380 miles northwest of the Canary Islands.
The pair, who escaped with only bruises, deduced the keel was held onto the boat’s black carbon-fiber hull by the hydraulic ram, posing a “serious risk of significant damage to the hull.”
They worked intensively, with guidance from their UK-based shore team, to make the boat safe and ultimately opted to cut away the keel to minimize the danger, lowering the hydrofoils to aid stability.
“Alex and Neal have filled the ballast tanks onboard and fully extended the foils in order to keep the boat as stable as possible,” said a statement from Ross Daniel, technical director of Thomson’s team.
“They are currently in light winds and a slight sea state, and we are comfortable that there is no immediate risk to the boat or the skippers.”
‘Courage to lead’
The pair have retired from the race and are considering options for safely making their way to a port without the need for assistance.
Thomson is a vastly experienced ocean racer who is targeting the 2020 single-handed non-stop Vendee Globe around-the-world race.
The Hugo Boss-sponsored boat, developed in Hampshire, England, took more than two years to design and build, involving more than 100 naval architects, engineers and boat builders, according to a statement.
“What makes us one of the most exciting teams in this sport is that we display the courage to lead,” said Thomson at the boat’s official launch.
“We innovate, we push boundaries and we’re not afraid to do things differently. We accept that, in doing so, we might not always be right. But we are certainly not afraid to explore things that have never been done before”.
Thomson has finished third and second on the last two editions of the grueling Vendee Globe but failed to finish in two previous versions because of boat damage.
McDonald sailed for Great Britain in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and has competed in seven versions of the Volvo Ocean Race, the premier crewed yacht race around the world.
Last year, Thomson was set to win the solo transatlantic Route du Rhum race from St. Malo, France, to Guadeloupe but he slept through his alarm and hit an outlying reef near the finish on the Caribbean island.
He was forced to switch on his engine to motor off the rocks, and though he crossed the line first he was subsequently handed a 24-hour penalty, costing him the title.