Lionel had been on a port tack for about an hour, following an excellent 290° course and sailing along on a near-perfect route to tackle tonight's expected low pressure system. Before sunset, he had even set the removable forestay (cable) which would have allowed him to hoist a storm jib (ORC) if the wind was to increase. The sea was beginning to grow heavier, with waves reaching approximately 3 meters. Gitana was sailing at about 12 knots of average speed.
The spar broke approximately 7 meters below the mast head, right at the top of the mainsail (which had two reefs), and below the staysail stay fixation point. No explanation can be given so far concerning this mast breakage.
Lionel managed to secure the broken part onto the undamaged mast portion and started to head back home, downwind, towards La Trinité-sur-Mer (Atlantic Coast), about 200 miles (370 km) away.
At 20:00 French time (19:00 GMT), Gitana was positioned at 46°35'04'' N and 07°07'00'' W (almost right at the middle of the bay of Biscay), on a 64° heading, at 10,8 knots.
Slow down the boat
With the expected strong winds, Lionel's main problem is to slow down the boat, since it is impossible to lower the main sail. This sail is hooked at the second reef point, and obviously he cannot use the halyards (ropes) which are usually used to manoeuvre it. As an experienced sailor, after having discussed the matter over with Olivier Wroczynski, the trimaran's boat master, he decided to let the ropes drag behind the boat, in order to keep the speed below 20 knots (37 km/h). He should thus reach the French coastline by daylight. Two assistance boats with 4 members of the Gitana Team each are in stand-by, ready to leave and meet Gitana X, in order to help Lionel reach his mooring.
"We're obviously very disappointed for Lionel and the whole Gitana Team. This incident is a tough one. But that's the way it goes in mechanical sports", immediately declared Benjamin de Rotschild, the ship's owner and crew member, and Olivier Besse, project manager, when they heard the news. They also congratulated Lionel for his careful race debut aboard a brand new trimaran, which had only sailed 2000 miles (3700 km) prior to the Route du Rhum start.
Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) : between 06:00 and 08:00 French time (05:00 and 06:00 GMT) off Belle Isle, 20 miles (37 km) away from La Trinité-sur-Mer.