Volvo Ocean Race: Telefonica - Chinese gybe caused rudder damage

Pepe Ribes triming onboard Team Telefonica

Speaking from onboard the former Volvo Ocean Race leader, Telefonica, crew member Pepe Ribes said they were hit by a wave and Chinese gybed.

Ribes (ESP) is the boat captain on board Telefonica, and a veteran of three round the world races.

The incident cost the Spanish entry dearly and their chances of winning the 2011/12 edition vanished in two minutes in the early hours of Thursday morning, when she suffered damage to both rudders.

'We were sailing in 28-34kts of wind. The wind was starrting to increase as we got closer to the centre of the low pressure. We were pushing the boat very hard, as everyone has been doing.

'We broached in one of the waves. We nosedived, and the starboard rudder broke.

'That was a big surprise for us. We changed the rudder using a system we copied from Puma in the last Volvo Ocean Race. In 45 minutes we were sailing again, and were back in the race.

'All afternoon we pushed hard to get back into the front, and we got back to be side by side with Groupama.

'At the momemt we gybed the wind in the centre of the low was about 35-40kts solid, with big waves up to about seven metres.

'After the gybe we started sailing with the fractional, it was very difficult and we reduced to less sail.

'We were sailing with the main and J4. One of the waves hit the boat and we Chinese gybed, and broke the starboard rudder again.

'At the moment of the gybe I was checking the rudders because we were hearing a cracking noise from the port rudder, because we thought the port rudder was about to break.

'At the moment we think the port rudder is broken, or delaminated, or something wrong in the rudder stock. And we have a broken rudder to starboard.

'All night we have been sailing with the J4 (jib) and no mainsail.

'We are trying to get to Lorient as soon as possible.'

The official report from the Team Telefonica website reads:

Iker Martínez: 'The situation on board is normal but we have to be very careful as we only have one rudder and it's damaged'

At 20:00 UTC yesterday, 14th June, having solved the issue of a broken starboard rudder, 'Telefónica' was back in the lead on the eighth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. However, the most difficult decision was still to come: the final gybe to France: 'the boats gybing earlier will have the shift coming at them further ahead and will pay dearly for having to gybe later. Those who gybe later may have to sail with very strong winds and sail lots of extra miles,' wrote skipper Iker Martínez in the early hours of the morning.

Almost an hour later 'Telefónica' was the first of the boats to gybe, followed by 'Groupama'. Leading the fleet and at less than 300 miles from Lorient the Spanish boat suffered damage to the port rudder as well as damage to the spare rudder being used to starboard and so were forced to reduce their boat speed as they head for the French port.

'We are sailing without a problem to Lorient at 12 knots. The situation on board is normal but we have to be very careful as we only have one rudder and it's damaged. Fortunately the one we can use is the port one, the one we really need for sailing tacked to starboard towards Lorient,' were Iker Martínez's first words following the incident.

The damage to the port rudder and the damage to the starboard rudder both happened as the boat came down off a wave, 'the strange thing is that we felt we were sailing with a very safe rig at that point,' said Martínez. 'There were 30 or 40 knot winds and we had decided to spend the night with a small storm jib at the bow and the mainsail up, not going too fast but safely, given the tough conditions. Bringing down the mainsail without a rudder was quite an adventure and some of the battens have broken in the process... to add to the problems.'

Just past 1am the Spanish crew had gained control over the situation. Later the boat's skipper reported that everyone aboard was in perfect physical shape, although he did admit that 'the mood is as good as it can be in these circumstances. We've just seen any chances of us winning this round the world regatta slip away. More than two years work have disappeared into thin air in a matter of minutes. I'll be happy now if we finish without any more complications.'

Iker Martínez also chose to address the Director of Team Telefónica and the sponsors: 'I would like to say sorry from the bottom of my heart to our sponsors and more specifically to Pedro Campos who have risked so much to provide us with the necessary resources and time to be able to race in this regatta. I think that the only thing right now that that makes me feel any better is knowing that I've given one hundred per cent of myself to this for the past two years.'

Iker Martínez also said that: 'this is the first time that something like this has happened to me and I think it's going to be difficult to let it sink in, but I'll have to worry about that when we are all safely back on sure with no further risk. I can't say much more right now. A sad day for 'Telefónica' and it's my birthday tomorrow. All I can ask for is that we all get to shore safely.'

In the 1 am UTC position report, 'Telefónica' was in fifth place at speeds of 11.3 knots, 257 miles from Lorient. At 6 am UTC she remains in fifth place sailing at 14 knots of speed.