woxi woes

It just went ‘Bang!’ After three days of wild speculation, the real story of what happened to
Wild Oats XI in last weekend’s Cabbage Tree Island Race has emerged.

The first early picture taken inside the 100-footer showed what looked like a ring-frame fracture caused by extreme side-load on the deck as the mast sagged to leeward. Dockside pundits reasoned that some form of standing rigging failure, or sudden excessive sail force, must have caused the damage. There was talk of reaching strut breakage or chainplates ripping up through the gunnels. 

Not so. Sailing Anarchy can confirm that it was mast failure, pure and simple.

WOXI was charging along the mid-coast of New South Wales under two headsails and a full main (they’d just shaken out the reef). The supermaxi was sailing at top speed with a reaching strut set to open up the sheeting angle on their huge genoa. Everything seemed fine.

Without any indication that a failure was imminent the mast collapsed with a loud bang, low down inside the hull. (The shattered end can be seen in the photo above.) Somehow the rig stayed upright, but as the spar fell through the boat the lugs for attaching the reaching struts crashed into the deck. It was that down force that caused the internal damage and a nasty crack in the deck, not side-force as originally thought.

Through a combination of quick thinking, luck and good seamanship the crew was able to save the flailing rig and limp into Newcastle, the safest port of refuge under the prevailing conditions. With the towering spar leaning hard to one side they used WOXI’s canting keel to balance the boat.

Whether the mast failure was a result of extreme torsion or compression is yet to be established. No doubt the team from Southern Spars, who have already begun planning the repair, will come to their own conclusions. There has, as yet, been no decision as to whether they will need to build a new lower section or simply graft on the existing ‘stump’. 

Meanwhile, the boat was lifted out at Woolwich Dock early this morning (0730 Tuesday, Sydney time). The keel comes off and the hull will be parked in the nearby shed while a small army of shipwrights from McConaghy’s race to complete the repairs before the Sydney-Hobart start. They have 44 days.

Wild Oats XI was just one of 23 retirements from the Cabbage Tree Island race. There was widespread sail damage, steering failure, structural issues and a few injuries. Conditions were tough but far from extreme, yet almost a third of the fleet were DNF. Those dramas overshadowed the remarkable performance of the TP52 Gweilo which took first place in every handicap category – IRC, ORCi and PHS. 

 – anarchist David