Forged steel keels for the Vendee Globe?

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As the Vendee Globe race winds down to its last few days, racer Jean-Pierre Dick aboard Virbac-Paprec 3, lost his boat's keel at 2245 hrs UTC on Jan. 21, roughly 500 miles northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. Dick told the race office by satellite phone: "I was sailing on starboard tack under mainsail with one reef and the solent (sail), in 20 knots of wind. I was inside when the wind increased suddenly. I went out to adjust the sails. At that moment, I heard a loud bang. Virbac-Paprec 3 went to the luff and was pushed on its side. I eased the mainsail sheet and solent sheet. I furled it (the solent). I went to the end of the boom and eased the running backstay. I went downwind smoothly and the boat slowly went back into the right position. I filled all the ballasts to stabilise the boat. I am heading to the Azores at 8 knots with two reefs in the mainsail and with a staysail. The situation is stabilised and I think that there is no risk of capsizing.”

In the history of the Vendee Globe Race several boats have experienced total keel failures. While still out on the race course, Jean-Pierre Dick's fellow competitor Mike Golding, aboard Gamesa, weighed in on what he thought was one of the main reasons for keel failures. Golding, who had a keel break off only 50 miles from the finish during the 2004-2005 race, said he believed that fabricated steel keels were the problem and called for all the Vendee Race boats in the future to be equipped with stronger forged steel keels.

“A fabricated keel has the life span of one Vendée Globe, period,” Golding told Vendee Globe TV. “If it makes the finish it is a design success, if it breaks it is a design failure. Unfortunately we have seen far too many design failures with fabricated steel keels. I championed several years ago changing the rule when I was president of the (IMOCA) technical committee, I tried to change the rule to have forged steel keels, which is pretty much the only way of guaranteeing, well not guaranteeing, but reducing keel fatigue failures like this.” 

By Ocean Navigator