FOR five years they lit up the Portsmouth skyline and acted as a gateway into the city.
But the Sails of the South have been plunged into darkness – all because of mindless yobs.
Risking their lives, vandals ran across the M275 to the central reservation where they threw missiles, knocking out 21 of the 24 illuminations.
It has left the iconic tri-sail structure, which once lit up the entrance to Portsmouth at night, hidden to visitors.
Marion Johnson, from the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Partnership, which is tasked with regeneration of the city, said: 'The vandals managed to smash quite a lot of the lights surrounding the sails and we are waiting for the vandal-proof cages before repairing them.
'We've had lights broken before, but not as many as this in one go, and usually it's people in boats that throw things up to break them.
'This time things were thrown from the roadside and that's probably why they managed to break so many.'
The lights have been out on the 43ft structure for at least three months, but it is hoped they will be repaired within the next three weeks.
They will be left encased in the vandal-proof cages to prevent further damage.
The final cost of repairs is not yet known but Portsmouth City Council is having discussions with its insurance company to find out how much of the work will be covered.
Workmen will have to close one lane of the M275 to safely carry out the repairs.
It is expected this will happen overnight, and the date will be negotiated with the Highways Agency.