Read, crew await high-seas help after mast breaks
Limping slowly through the south Atlantic Ocean on what's left of their rigging and some borrowed fuel, American skipper Ken Read and his Puma Ocean Racing sailors on Mar Mostro are trying to keep their spirits from sagging despite being knocked out of the opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.
After Mar Mostro's 105-foot mast snapped and tumbled into the ocean on Monday, Read had no choice but to withdraw from the 6,500-nautical mile leg from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town. Mar Mostro began heading for the remote volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha to rendezvous with a container ship that would transport it to Cape Town.
However, Read found out Wednesday that the company hired to do the job backed out, leaving the shore crew scrambling to find another ship that can leave Cape Town as soon as possible.
"We're going to figure something out," Read of Newport, R.I., said by phone from the boat. "We don't know what it is yet, but we're not quitting, I'll tell you that. It is a little depressing."
By Wednesday afternoon, Mar Mostro -- the sea monster -- was about 450 nautical miles from Tristan da Cunha and going 7.5 knots. Read estimated it was going to take 2 1/2 days to get there.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Puma Ocean Racing general manager Kimo Worthington said he'd booked a ship in Durban, South Africa, that will stop in Cape Town to pick up one shore crew member, a 20-foot container of equipment and food, and a cradle, and then head for Tristan. Worthington said Berg Propulsion, one of the team's sponsor, is arranging for food, fuel and housing for the crew on the island.
Because the island has no port or airport, Read said the only way to get out is to have a container ship with a crane hoist Mar Mostro onto a cradle on the deck. The shore team member and the race crew will begin repairing what they can on the voyage to Cape Town.
A backup mast will be flown from the United States to Cape Town.
Worthington said the ship with Mar Mostro should arrive in Cape Town by Dec. 4 or 5. That would give the crew time to get the boat ready for the in-port race on Dec. 10. The second leg, to Abu Dhabi, begins Dec. 11.
"We have this little stump of a mast and we're hanging a sideways storm jib and sideways storm trysail, and the motor is helping us," Read said, estimating that only 15 feet of the mast remains. "We're conserving fuel as much as we can. Without that ship, we're in a bit of a tough spot. Hey, that's just the next obstacle. Lord knows we've had plenty of them the last three weeks."
That's how ocean racing is, Read said: one step forward, then a big step back. Mar Mostro is the third of six boats to get knocked out of the opening leg of the world's premier blue water race.
"We couldn't have broken this mast in a worse spot, 750 miles from one of the most remote islands on Earth, and still 2,200, 2,300 miles from Cape Town," Read said. "Rio was only 1,000 miles the other way, but going upwind won't work, and we'd be going the wrong way. We want to be part of this race. Now it's a race against time and logistics."
On Tuesday, race organizers sent a radio message that the 70-foot Mar Mostro was in urgent need of fuel.
"Somehow we find this unbelievable Greek ship with a Russian captain who diverts out of his way and transferred 600 liters of fuel," Read said about the giant container ship that met Mar Mostro on the high seas. "We don't know who they are or where they're going, but these are the greatest people we've met in a long time."
The Puma Ocean Racing crew and shore team are trying to figure out why the mast broke so they don't encounter a similar problem with the backup spar. The crew salvaged the three broken pieces and sent photos to the manufacturer.
Read said the crew has been receiving emails from family, friends and sponsors. He said he was trying to make time to think of his daughter, Tory, on her 15th birthday.
Read skippered Puma Ocean Racing to second place in the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. Although the crew is dealing with an "emotional rollercoaster," he isn't counting Puma out of the nine-leg race that covers 39,000 nautical miles.
"To be honest, it's our only hope right now. It's our salvation out here. As athletes, if we didn't have that hope, it would be way harder to be pushing on as these guys are," Read said. "Even if I didn't think there was a chance, it would never be mentioned. We've got each other, 11 people on board who've busted their butts and hope to get back into the race and pull off a miracle."
The second leg of 5,430 nautical miles to Abu Dhabi will present another logistical challenge. Due to the threats of piracy in the Indian Ocean, the race will be stopped at an undisclosed port and the boats transported closer to Abu Dhabi before sailing resumes. The process will be reversed for the third leg before the race continues to Sanya, China.