Because stuff breaks. A lot of stuff breaks. And sometimes (Guillemot, De Pavant, Burton, Davies, Beyou) that means you are out of the race. And sometimes it means you can stay in the race IF you can MacGyver a solution.
Here's Alex Thomson taking you inside this reality after his hydro-generator ripped loose and took out the tie-bar linking his rudders. Not only did he sort out a solution that allowed him to keep sailing fast while he figured out how to make a repair. He also went to work with a grinder and carbon splints.
And here's additional detail:
“I was low on battery juice so I popped the hydro down and went below to see how many amps were going in. At the time I was averaging about 18 knots and I heard a strange noise so went to the door and I could see the hydro (generator) vibrating very severely and getting worse. I realised it was going to break and rushed to pull it up but before I got there it ripped off the back of the boat and did a cartwheel and smashed the starboard tie bar. I was on port tack so the starboard rudder was not connected to anything and I knew instantly that the boat would wipe out. It did, but I managed to get the boat flat and got downwind to roll up the A3 spinnaker keeping the port rudder in the water doing all the steering.”
That’s when the real work started. Between 12 and 12.30pm on Saturday, Hugo Boss was almost stationary as Thomson cannibalised his port rudder bar and started sailing again.
“The bar is a very thin carbon tube about 3m long which was broken in two places, and we do not carry a spare unfortunately,” Thomson said. “Cliff (Nicholson) our composite engineer is a genius problem solver and he came up with a plan with Ross (Daniel) and (Simon) Clarkey which would splint the breaks using carbon strips. I firstly had to cut the strips with the grinder with a diamond cutting blade I have onboard. I was not looking forward to doing it because literally everything would be covered in carbon dust. I cleared the cockpit and got to work all while averaging 19 knots of boat speed. I managed to do it without cutting a finger off or cutting through the cockpit floor. Once I had finished I was covered in silver paint and back carbon dust and the cockpit looked like Cliff’s workshop. The repair sure ain’t pretty but it should be functional and was about seven hours work all in plus some tidy up time. I was pretty knackered but pleased. It has been an amazing team effort.”
Who knows whether his repair will hold up in the Southern Ocean. But this is what it really takes to race the Vendee Globe.
Of course, the all-time MacGyver award for the Vendee Globe goes to Yves Parlier, and his heroic solo mast repair (and near-starvation) in the 2000 Vendee Globe.