Solo skipper takes nothing for granted

Chris Stanmore-Major
Chris Stanmore-Major
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SOLO racer Chris Stanmore-Major reflected on a tough week’s work and was forced to admit: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

The Velux 5 Oceans skipper was over half way through the last leg of the round-the-world race, with the finish in La Rochelle, when he thought his Eco 60 yacht Spartan was sinking.

The Cowes-based 33-year-old discovered the potential disaster some 1,000 miles east of Newfoundland when he returned below decks following a sail change to find his main cabin was full of water.

The quantity of water slopping about in the still hard-charging Spartan was enough to set off Stanmore-Major’s automatic Epirb – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon – sparking an alert.

‘My immediate thought was that something had breached the hull,’ said Stanmore-Major.

‘I have literally never seen that much water inside a boat before.

‘When it happened it was like that feeling when you know you are going over the handlebars of your bike and everything goes out of your control.

‘It’s that kind of trapdoor feeling where you think “okay, this is serious”.

‘I have enough experience of these situations to know the difference between having a bit of water inside the boat and actually thinking I am sinking.’

Spartan’s Epirb signal was picked up by Falmouth Coastguard, who contacted Velux 5 Ocean race control, and fellow competitors Derek Hatfield and Zbigniew Gutkowski were diverted to Stanmore-Major’s position.

On board, frantic pumping reduced the water level to reveal a three-foot crack by the rear bulkhead. Stanmore-Major reported he could not find a hull breach which suggests his rear water ballast tank – full at the time to trim the boat in the heavy downwind conditions – had ruptured.

The experience was a huge shock for the Spartan skipper, an experienced yachtsman but a newcomer to solo sailing, who was thankfully left with nothing worse than a saturated interior – including all his clothing and onboard computer.

‘It is a reminder that we have been out here for a long time now and I need to be very, very careful with my boat,’ Stanmore-Major said.

‘Not only is it a piece of sporting equipment, it is also my survival cell if something goes wrong.’

Meanwhile, leg and overall race leader Brad van Liew was on course to cross the finish line in La Rochelle today, having come through the last storm of the race in good shape.

‘This low pressure area I’m in is quite a barn-burner,’ he reported midweek. ‘I’ve had up to 47 knots this morning with lots of squalls.

‘The seas have got really gnarly, too – not huge but really short and steep. Right now I’m just trying to take care of the boat. I’ve got three reefs in the main and no jib at all.’