As I sit here typing this journal, I’m listening to a sound that a few days ago, I would not have believed possible.
Three days ago, the starboard hydraulic ram that swings the keel failed after an oil seal blew. On Hellomoto we have two hydraulic rams in the event that one fails the other is robust enough to still swing the keel 100%. Having isolated the faulty starboard ram, the port ram was only just holding the keel at half cant, which was ok, but over the next few days the pressure in the system gradually failed, eventually this ram has also failed. Yesterday morning I notified Race Controle of the situation asking them to standby incase I could not contain the keel which was now freely swinging fron side to side. At the time the conditions where moderating with the wind speed 20kts and the sea state still running fairly high.
Joff (Project Manager) was in contact with the yacht designer (Finot) and builder (Marco Leferve check spelling) to look at how we might be able to centralise the keel and hold it with a series of lashings around the keel structure. We had discussed this possibility a few days before and Joff had suggested that if the rams failed we might we able to contain the keel by wrapping tightly the strom jib sheets around the piston part of the rams which would stop them sliding in and out. He then suggested we would then simply “chuck as much rope at it as possible” to stabilise the keel and try to keep racing towards LSD. Out here, 500 miles from Rio, alone and only days after Skandia had lost her keel, I didnt feel at all confident. I put the grab bag by the stern hatch and walked through the boat imagining it upside down in darkess, feeling my way through to the aft emergency hatch.
With the keel swinging violently from side to side, I wrapped the strom jib sheets around each ram carefully. Gradually the keel had less and less range to swing, until eventually it was contained on the centreline. There was still a alarming fore and aft pitching of the keel in the bearing, so I tried unsucessfully to lash the keel forward of the mast base. I then continued to apply every spare bit of rope to try and hold the keel steady, tightening each turn using a spanish windless technique. It was better, but still rocking around, the noise was terrible and I felt very uneasy trying to rest. Overnight, the boat felt better pressed, so with two reefs and the trinquette, I continued sailing down the track, reaching at speeds of 17kts. The lighter winds were forecast to be just a few hours away and in the early hours of this morning the wind died. With no pressure on the keel, it began rocking again in the swell and it sounded awful. I contacted Joff and he confirmed that we needed to get the keel canted to stop the wear in the bearing and keep the boat pressed.
The only way to cant the keel would be to crash tack Hellomoto and let gravity do the work. With Hellomoto lying on her ear, I could then relash the keel before tacking back. I knew Mike (Golding) had done a similar trick during the Transat, the difference being he had a failed electric motor fail rather than failed rams! I pushed the helm over and hove to with the trinquette backed and the main pinned. Hellomoto was heeled over and sliding sideways. It took me half and hour to re-set the lashing before tacking the boat back. I was covered in sweat. I’d gained 10 degrees of keel cant, just enough to stop the keel rocking on the centrline. 4 hours later as the pressure in the lashings stretched, I would need to re-do the whole manouvre. I’ve just finshed the last lashing and as I throw 2 litres of sports drink down my neck, the keel is secured and I will have to get used to that gut wrenching sound as the spectra is squeezed by the rams.
As to the future and whether we can sail 5000 miles like this to the Finish in LSD, I dont know. Tomorrow we will try and repair the starboard ram and replace the oil lost. Realistically, we have to do this to give us any chance. For the moment, Hellomoto is sailing on course for the finish. We will pass Salvador in a day or so which may be the last port before crossing the Equator and heading into the north Atlantic. My team as always have the utmost confidence we can find a solution and until it is not safe to do so, I will continue on racing to LSD.
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