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Keel Less Vendee Globe Skipper Weighs up Options as Rival Calls for Forged Steel Keels

22nd January 2013
Keel Less Vendee Globe Skipper Weighs up Options as Rival Calls for Forged Steel Keels

#vg12 – Despite losing his keel with 2,000 miles to the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) has not abandoned and is working out what to do next. "The competitor and the sailor do not agree," Dick said. "Should I continue in a degraded state or abandon and go and hide in the Azores."

Dick described what happened on Vendee Globe TV: "It happened a little before midnight," he said. "There were already noises in the boat, rather strong and quite screeching. I thought it was the sound of keel jack but in fact the head of keel was already damaged. All of a sudden there was a popping noise. Fortunately, I was between the outside and inside, there were several squalls and then there was a new squall happening. The boat was lying on its side in a second I realised that the keel had broken. I was able to quickly get to the mainsail winch to ease the mainsail a little. The boat began to luff and went down quickly on the water. There was certainly a moment of doubt about the boat, luckily it did not flip over. After a few minutes I was able to ease the solent (sail) and furl it. The boat was safe enough to put in more ballast and take a risk and further reduce the canvas.

"It is a shame to lose the keel at this stage of the race. About the outcome, I do not know yet, we'll see what will happen if I continue running or not. Currently, I am still in the race, I did not give up. The mast is there, as are the sails, the boat floats and I took a little advice from a specialist in the field, called Marco (Guillemot). I called him and he gave me some tips. For now I have a lot of ballast filled in my boat and I think I'm in good conditions. The boat is safe enough not to capsize if there is gust of wind. It is always impressive is true but the boat always moves between 11 and 12 knots. We are going at least to the Azores at first."

Marc Guillemot rewrote the rulebook and received a hero's welcome at the finish after losing his keel with 1,000 miles to go. But like Dick, Roland Jourdain, was further from home, headed to the Azores and retired after losing his keel whilst clear in second place in the last edition in 2008-09.

Dick was still making good speed in the third place and continuing on his normal route in 16-18 northeasterlies, 200 miles ahead of Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss). But the challenge will come if he is faced with bigger winds and particularly rougher, cross seas, that he could face, especially in the Bay of Biscay.

The loss of Virbac-Paprec's keel sparked shock and worry among the fleet and debate about the durability of these IMOCA Open 60 boats. It is not a new debate, but as each generation becomes faster and more powerful and at the same time seeks to pare down the weight, safety is ever more of an issue.

"A fabricated keel has the life span of oneVendée Globe, period," Mike Golding (Gamesa) told Vendee Globe TV. "If it makes the finish it is a design success, if it breaks it is a design failure. Unfortunately we have seen far too many design failures with fabricated steel keels. I championed several years ago changing the rule when I was president of the (IMOCA) technical committee, I tried to change the rule to have forged steel keels, which is pretty much the only way of guaranteeing, well not guaranteeing, but reducing keel fatigue failures like this. Unfortunately the votes missed by 3 or 4 votes out of a hundred people, as a result we have still got the fabricated forged and carbon variations. For me I chose to switch to a carbon keel, so I'm on a carbon keel, theoretically if the carbon keel is good, it is good for the life of the boat, theoretically [laughs]."

Golding knows more than most about finishing a Vendée Globe without a keel, having become the first man to do it, in the 2004-05 edition, when he lost his keel with 50 miles to go to the finish line but still managed to finish third. But he did not sound optimistic for the chances of Dick's more long range position. "In 2005 I was 50 miles from the finish, my immediate reaction when I lost the keel was that this is the end of it, you cannot sail the boat," he said. "But quite quickly I worked out that with ballast I could sail the boat, and even though it was upwind to the finish, in fact it was nearer 90 miles by the time I sailed it, because I had to tack upwind to get to Les Sables d'Olonne, the boat will sail. But I think the real problem is it is quite different being close to the finish like that, and in the position where Jean-Pierre is, he is a long way out and a long way from the finish and the reality is the boat is not very safe without the keel.

"I think everyone will be looking down in their keel pits and making sure everything is the way, or at least looks the way it should be. The trouble with these fabricated steel failures is there is pretty much no warning, you don't really see anything, you don't hear anything, you don't feel anything, and then right at the end it tends to fail, it tends to release, it bends massively before it breaks. Probably Jean-Pierre mentioned in his report he felt a gust of wind and he went out and checked the sails, the reality is I recall exactly the same experience, in hindsight I don't think the wind increased at all, there was no gust, the keel was bending and then the bang is when it finally releases. So what happened to JP [Jean-Pierre] sounds extremely similar to what happened to me, I ended up quite confused about why the boat was heeling so much when the keel was seemingly in the right position."

The skipper with most to gain from Dick's loss, Alex Thomson, who should move up into third place in the next two days, expressed his sympathy and shock. He also called for changes to the IMOCA class. "I am shocked and gutted at the news that JP Dick has lost his keel," Thomson wrote.  "JP has sailed an awesome race and does not deserve this to happen to him. He has worked so hard and maintained his 3rd position despite having to climb the mast countless times. I am thankful that it has happened here and not in the south although JP will have to go through some significant weather to get to the Azores, potentially up to 40 knots on the 26th.

"I never thought we would see a keel failure on this race.  IMOCA has of course a history with keel failures but I really thought all those problems were behind us.  It will be interesting to review the failures of Virbac and Safran (Marc Guillemot's boat which lost it's titanium keel on the first night of this edition), both penned from the same designer (Verdier-VPLP) to see exactly why these failures have happened.

"When I joined the class in 2003, I was a little surprised that I had to change the keel on my first boat because it had exceeded its mileage of 80,000 miles. Since then people have been building keels that last only one round the world race to save a few kilos of weight. I came from the world that a keel lasted for the life of the boat and that is where we need to get to. In 2009 IMOCA brought in some regulations to make keels safer but it obviously has not been enough.

"Enough is enough, the keels need to be made of solid steel and last the life of the boat, before someone gets hurt."

Published in Vendee Globe
Afloat.ie Team

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The 2020/2021 Vendée Globe Race

A record-sized fleet of 33 skippers will start the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe: the 24,296 nautical miles solo non-stop round-the-world race from Les Sables d’Olonne in France, on Sunday, November 8 at 1302hrs French time/1202hrs TU and will be expected back in mid-January 2021.

Vendée Globe Race FAQs

Six women (Alexia Barrier, Clarisse Cremer, Isabelle Joschke, Sam Davies, Miranda Merron, Pip Hare).

Nine nations (France, Germany, Japan, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, and Great Britain)

After much speculation following Galway man Enda O’Coineen’s 2016 race debut for Ireland, there were as many as four campaigns proposed at one point, but unfortunately, none have reached the start line.

The Vendée Globe is a sailing race round the world, solo, non-stop and without assistance. It takes place every four years and it is regarded as the Everest of sailing. The event followed in the wake of the Golden Globe which had initiated the first circumnavigation of this type via the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) in 1968.

The record to beat is Armel Le Cléac’h 74 days 3h 35 minutes 46s set in 2017. Some pundits are saying the boats could beat a sub-60 day time.

The number of theoretical miles to cover is 24,296 miles (45,000 km).

The IMOCA 60 ("Open 60"), is a development class monohull sailing yacht run by the International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA). The class pinnacle events are single or two-person ocean races, such as the Route du Rhum and the Vendée Globe.

Zero past winners are competing but two podiums 2017: Alex Thomson second, Jérémie Beyou third. It is also the fifth participation for Jean Le Cam and Alex Thomson, fourth for Arnaud Boissières and Jérémie Beyou.

The youngest on this ninth edition of the race is Alan Roura, 27 years old.

The oldest on this ninth edition is Jean Le Cam, 61 years old.

Over half the fleet are debutantes, totalling 18 first-timers.

The start procedure begins 8 minutes before the gun fires with the warning signal. At 4 minutes before, for the preparatory signal, the skipper must be alone on board, follow the countdown and take the line at the start signal at 13:02hrs local time. If an IMOCA crosses the line too early, it incurs a penalty of 5 hours which they will have to complete on the course before the latitude 38 ° 40 N (just north of Lisbon latitude). For safety reasons, there is no opportunity to turn back and recross the line. A competitor who has not crossed the starting line 60 minutes after the signal will be considered as not starting. They will have to wait until a time indicated by the race committee to start again. No departure will be given after November 18, 2020, at 1:02 p.m when the line closes.

The first boat could be home in sixty days. Expect the leaders from January 7th 2021 but to beat the 2017 race record they need to finish by January 19 2021.

Today, building a brand new IMOCA generally costs between 4.2 and €4.7million, without the sails but second-hand boats that are in short supply can be got for around €1m.

©Afloat 2020

At A Glance - Vendee Globe 2024

The 10th edition will leave from Les Sables d’Olonne on November 10, 2024

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