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Women's Amer Sports Too Boat Loses It's Rig


Amer Sports Too skipper Lisa McDonald described today the worst 62 hours of her sailing career as she and her crew of 12 worked to get the disabled yacht to port before a massive storm overtook them..

They reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, just before the storm reached its peak off the coast of Nova Scotia. As it was, the wind reached 58 knots and they had some anxious moments at the end of a 200 metre tow line attached to a Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker.

May Day 2002 is a day Lisa McDonald and her crew on Amer Sports Too will never forget.

It was the first day of “beautiful down wind sailing since the start of leg seven of the Volvo Ocean Race".

“We had had a couple of days of hard down-wind sailing since leaving the Chesapeake. On Wednesday there was a lull between two weather systems. We were expecting the breeze to build later in the day and give us a chance to take some miles out of the rest of the fleet."

“But for the time we were coasting along quite happily with a spinnaker up, taking the opportunity to check equipment and fittings for signs of wear and tear after a couple of tough days. The breeze started to fill in but was still only about 12 knots."

“There was great bang and in a split second the top section of the mast – from the second spreaders - was in the water next to us … still attached to the stump."

“We were astonished that the mast could break in those conditions. I’m still shaking at the though that we could have easily had Bridget (Suckling) or Liz (Wardley) up the mast checking for signs of damage. Fortunately we didn’t.”

“It was a shock of to the whole crew. We were fortunate that we weren’t in a howling gale when the rig broke because we had sails and rigging in the water and as we rolled in the swell there was a danger that sails or rigging could wrap around the keel, rudder or propeller strut.

“If that had happened we would have been in serious trouble.”

“So we had to get sails and standing and running rigging out of the water quickly so we could haul the toppled part of the mast aft and lash it to the stern so it couldn’t bash a hole in the hull.”

Adding to the urgency was a forecast weather system that was coming in that night and by the time we had sails stowed and mast head lashed to the stern new we had 30 knots of wind and we were in the middle of a thunder storm. That lasted all night.

The decision then was either to make for Nova Scotia or continue across the Atlantic under jury rig.

“The decision was really made for us by the big low pressure area building in the west. The only sensible decision was to get the yacht into port before that storm hit.

Even with engine going they were making slow progress across the ground to Halifax. Using the motor meant using fuel – they had enough for 40 hours, which was insufficient to get them to port.

“We needed favourable winds from astern to push us along but that didn’t happen so we began to think about a tow. Our shore crew talked to the Canadian authorities who decided they did not really want a dismasted yacht running short of fuel out in a big storm.

“The sight of the big ice breaker coming out of the fog at 8am on Friday was the best thing we had seen for days. They were fantastic, looked after us very well and shepherding us right to the berth in Halifax.

“It was very comforting to know the Coast Guard was there when the edge of the depression got us and the winds started building hour by hour, just as the forecasts had predicted. By 5pm we were in almost 60 knots of wind and worse was to come.

“We were very lucky that we were not out in that storm last night alone.”

The arrival at Halfax was subdued, a mix of relief and regret. Relief at being safe in Halfax and having got the yacht and crew safely out of the clutches of a terrible storm. Regret that Amer Sports Too will be crossing the Atlantic as cargo on a ship.

Today dawned sunny and warm in Halifax and the crew worked to prepare the yacht for the voyage to Europe.

“Our mission now is to get to the starting line of leg eight at La Rochelle. The Nautor Challenge is moving heaven and earth to make that happen.”

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