INEOS Britannia campaign suffers setback after double capsize in Palma
The British team's support crew had to act fast to avoid the T6 LEQ12 from being swamped after turning turtle
British Challenger of Record INEOS Britannia has suffered a setback to its campaign for the 37th America’s Cup on Wednesday after capsizing their T6 LEQ12 test boat during a fast and furious testing session in winds gusting to 18 knots on Palma Bay.
The team – on its 24th day on the water since setting up its winter training base in Palma in October last year – had enjoyed two and half hours of high speed sailing in winds of 15 to 18 knots and had comfortably pulled off a number of foiling tacks and gybes as well as bear aways and roundups.
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At shortly before 1600, after a blistering downwind run that had left the team’s chase boats and the recon team struggling to keep up the boat rounded up onto a reach but then seemed to get out of kilter with leeward heel and a big bow up.
After the subsequent splash down the boat was quickly back up and foiling, but seconds later the crew seemed to lose control and the boat capsized.
It went over on its starboard side and was quickly righted with assistance from the shore crew after a bow tow line was swiftly attached to the team’s largest chase boat.
However, as the boat came upright the crew seemed unable to de-power the mainsail and shortly after the boat capsized a second time – this time on its port side.
As the support team scrambled to set up for a second righting the mast and sails began to disappear as the boat turned fully turtle with its two foils and rudder pointing skywards.
The team’s skipper Ben Ainslie – who had become separated from the boat – was quickly retrieved by a chase boat and immediately began to help coordinate the next stage of rescue operation. Meanwhile helmsman Giles Scott and flight controllers/trimmers Iain Jensen and Bleddyn Mon had clambered over onto the bottom of the upturned hull.
With the boat upside down there was a risk of water ingress to the hull so the team attached a large inflatable buoy to the bow and fed a long sausage-shaped inflatable tube under the foredeck.
After the team’s safety diver somehow managed to attach an inflatable buoy to the top of the inverted mast, a side tow line eventually got the boat back into the capsize position on to its starboard side.
This enabled the crew to cut away the double skin M2 mainsail and the J3 headsail – which were both hauled aboard a chase boat – before a long period of coordinated towing from the two ribs (one on the bow, the other pulling laterally on a line first attached to the hull and then shifted to the upturned port foil) eventually brought the boat upright.
With the bow of the boat submerged up to the mast, the support crew had to move fast to get several pumps onto the boat to avoid it becoming swamped. There were a few tense moments before the bow began to rise again but soon it was obvious that the pumps and the multiple buckets that had been deployed had done the job.
Then, with the tattered head of the mainsail and the orange inflatable buoy still at the top of the mast, T6 was coaxed gently towards Palma Port with a chase boat attached on either side.
Shortly before entering the harbour the crew had to deploy specialist fire extinguishers to deal with the boat’s now smouldering Lithium Ion batteries.
Back on the dock at 1855 the shore team was ready and waiting to attach crane lines and start to tidy the boat up ready for haul out.
Speaking on the dock afterwards Ainslie said:
“It was a tough day in the end. It started off really well with some great conditions out there and getting out in some big sea state. We went into a turn up and got a little bit bow up and a bit heeled. We had a bit of a slam down and I think something happened to the systems on board and we then couldn’t ease the sails. So we went into a full heel over and capsize.”
He went on to explain that after doing a good job of righting the boat the second capsize had come because when the team failed to get the bow of the boat back into the wind.
“That’s when we really started to get into trouble in terms of water getting into the boat – which is a big, big issue in these boats. There was a moment there where we were just making sure we didn’t lose the whole thing. But the team did a brilliant job – both on the yacht and on the chase boats.
“We managed to salvage things as best we could. We finally got the bot upright and then we had some major issues with the lithium batteries setting alight – which was the final bit of carnage for the day.”
Ainslie said he expected that many of the onboard systems on the silver LEQ12 would have to be replaced after being immersed in sea water for over an hour.
“I think we will have to gut most of that but the thing is that the IP/the software is all still there – it’s just a matter of getting the hardware replaced. We are about to go into an upgrade window for a couple of weeks so our target will be to get those replacements done by the end of that window.”
Whether the British team will use that time to commission their yet-to-be-seen AC40 is yet to be determined.
Despite today’s setback Ainslie said the team would quickly bounce back.
“This is the first capsize we have had – full turtle – in these boats so I am sure there are plenty of learnings for us and for the other teams watching. We will take it on the chin and come back from it.”