Vital comms remain intact despite race boat losing antenna

Dongfeng Race Team was put to the ultimate test during the Volvo Ocean Race when a device holding up its main front sail broke, causing major damage to vital deck equipment.

The drama unfolded yesterday evening (Sunday) during Leg One of the race, around 800 nautical miles away from their destination, Cape Town, South Africa.

A device called a padeye broke, sending high loads crashing across the desk, destroying the starboard steering wheel, the pushpit and the aft stanchions (the safety posts on the side of the boat). Luckily, there were no injuries and despite losing one of the two Inmarsat C antennas, satellite communications have not been affected. The boat and equipment will be fixed once they reach Cape Town.

‘Capable equipment’

Dongfeng’s Onboard Reporter, Yann Riou, described the lost antenna as ‘manageable’ adding: “We have such a good array of Inmarsat-capable equipment onboard, the loss of this antenna will not affect comms from or to the boat for the rest of the race to Cape Town.”

However, the crew’s safety has been compromised after the protective safety bars at the back of the boat were knocked off, alongside safety posts at the back on one side and the lifelines that the crew clip on to keep them on board.

“This is one of the strongest points on the boat. It’s where we sheet all the big sails. It’s gone. Straight off.  It’s a bit scary actually,” said crew member Martin Strömberg in a video posted on YouTube showing the damage.

Second place

Skipper Charles Caudrelier commented that the break was ‘strange’ and that he had never witnessed one like it before. “It has caused a lot of problems – no more wheel, no more lifelines, no more aft block. We will deal with it and try to stay focused on the job at the moment, but for sure it doesn’t help!” he added.

Although the boat has another steering wheel, the team will find the loss of the starboard wheel a real handicap because it is difficult to see all the sails from just one side.

But despite losing five miles and half an hour in time in order to sort out the destruction, the team recovered well and managed to retain its second place after setting sail on 11 October from Alicante, Spain.

Flagship services

Inmarsat is the race’s official Satellite Communications Partner for a fourth consecutive edition, delivering cutting-edge safety services, vessel tracking capabilities, audio and video communications and social media access to all seven crews, navigating 38,739 nautical miles and visiting 11 ports across six continents.

Each Volvo Ocean 65 race boat is equipped with Inmarsat’s flagship maritime services – FleetBroadband 500 (FB500), FleetBroadband 250 (FB250) and two Inmarsat C antennas for safety.

In addition, each boat carries Inmarsat’s latest satellite phone, IsatPhone 2, in their life raft packs.