As if rounding Cape Horn weren't enough drama.
In the early morning hours of Monday, March 30, Dongfeng Race Team Charles Caudrelier was woken by a loud bang. "At first, I thought it was the rudder," he told Genny Tullock. "We went on deck and thought it might be the main car. We put the light on the mast and saw that the mast was broken at the third spreader. So... it's not the end of the race, but it's the end of the leg, maybe," he said with a chuckle.
The top 4-5 meters of the mast broke for currently unseen reasons roughly 240 nautical miles west of Cape Horn. "We have a few ideas, but it doesn't seem that we broke a cable," Caudrelier said. "The mast seems to have broken itself. We were sailing normally in strong conditions, fast for sure, but the sea state was good and we were not pushing it." The topmost section of the mast is still connected and is hanging by a single halyard. The fractional sail is still tethered.
The crew was not hurt, but the situation is still treacherous. The mast broke in roughly 30 knots of wind, and the boat is currently making its way to the entrance of the Beagle Channel at the southernmost tip of Argentina at roughly 8-9 knots. Dongfeng has not officially retired from the race yet, as they can head into Ushuaia and fix the mast or simply take a DNF. A last place finish would accrue six points, a DNF would accrue eight.
"We really cannot do much more to stabilize the situation right now," Damian Foxall, a crewmember onboard Dongfeng explained. "At some stage I think we are going to have to go up there and cut some stuff off."
"You don't do an ocean race without having a big problem," said Caudrelier. "Somertimes it's a human problem. We'll be stealing the podium. We'll come back. It's not the end of the world, it's just one leg."
For Caudrelier, there's a certain element of deja vu going on. During the last Volvo Ocean Race, Groupama 4 suffered a broken mast en route to Itajai with Frank Cammas as skipper, and Caudrelier onboard as helsman and trimmer, and Foxall as a crewmember.