At around 9:30am on 3 November the new IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss of Britons Alex Thomson and NealMcDonald, taking part in the Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic regatta, struck an unknown underwater object at 25 knots.
«Not sure what we encountered. It was something big underwater that hit the keel and stopped the boat at 25 knots. The keel is badly damaged and is only held by a hydraulic piston. Neil and I are physically fine. No major injuries, just a couple of bruises. We're lucky. If you were to sit in your car, close your eyes and hit a brick wall at 64km/h... That was about it! » - Thomson reported .
The incident took place 420 nautical miles southwest of Madeira and380 miles northwest of the Canary Islands. Hugo Boss managed to make it about a third of the 4,350-mile route from Le Havre, France, to Salvador , Brazil . Fortunately, an anticyclone in the Azores provided weather with not too strong winds and relatively calm seas, so the team was relatively safe.
It soon became clear that a continuation of the race was out of the question. The sailors had spent hours trying to stabilize the keel but it was a lost cause. In the end, they had to disconnect the keel from the boat; leaving it there would have put the hull at risk for more damage. It was now lying at the bottom of the Atlantic. They had to stabilize the boat with filled ballast tanks and full foils.
The Hugo Boss is now sailing solo at around 7 knots towards the Cape Verde Islands. They are located about 800 nautical miles from the scene, but after thinking about all the options, it was decided that this route would be the safest for the boat and crew. Hugo Boss is expected to arrive on site by around November 9.
To be precise, some technical difficulties were encountered by the team early in the race. According to Thomson, refusing to turn south, following the leaders of the IMOCA fleet, was not so much a tactical trickery as a forced decision. Hugo Boss had a damaged one of her sails off Wessan Island .
However, despite the fact that Hugo Boss is on a par with Charal by the FrenchmenJérémie BeyouandChristopher PrattandThe other IMOCA 60 of the new generation was potentially capable of setting a new speed record in Transat, winning the race was not the team's first priority.
«Our aim was to finish and gather enough data to make further decisions»," admitted Thomson and Macdonald frankly before the race.
In fact, this year's Transat was just a good opportunity for the crew to test the boat in-between before the upcoming Vendée Globe non-stop round-the-world singles race in 2020. Partly for this reason, the second skipper for this year's regatta is Neil MacDonald, the man responsible within the Hugo Boss design team for ensuring the boat's high efficiency.
«It is asking too much to ask someone to go out to sea for two or three weeks on a boat alone and collect all the information. There is a "learning process" going on right now and my presence will hopefully help»- MacDonald said.
Either way, it looks like the current Transat will end up being a little more successful for Thomson and his team than the previous one. The Hugo Boss is able to make it to port on its own, whereas in 2015 Thomson had to be evacuated by helicopter after the coup. Ironically, the yachtsman was then also sailing in a new boat, which was launched just a month before the regatta.
The remaining fleet in the regatta has covered between 50 and 80% of the route to date.
The IMOCA Group is led by French Apiva byCharlie Dalin and YannEliès. It is separated from Charal by 32 nautical miles, but the rest of the IMOCA fleet is behind by almost 80 nautical miles and more. French team Crédit Mutuel of Ian Lipinski and Adrien Hardy have a 71 nautical mile lead in Class.