O Canada Heads to Azores for Repairs Then Retires While Skipper Sails On

Oh Canada Repairs


December 20, 2015

At 1030UTC Skipper Eric Holden of Canadian Ocean Racing contacted Transat Saint Barths race office to inform the Ocean Masters governing body that he will head to the Azores due to keel issues. Holden’s open 60 O Canada is the third boat in the race to deviate to the Azores for repairs, all with reported keel problems.

Holden first reported suspected issues with the keel in his skipper blog yesterday due to some abnormal noises, but upon further inspection could not determine the issue.  Today, Holden describes more prominent problems such as feeling the keel shutter as it moves over waves and a loud cracking sound from what appears to be the keel rams.  

“Just after dawn I was doing a boat check after a recent broach in a 50kt squall. There had been an issue with the keel rams loosing pressure slowly over time for a while but during this inspection it become evident that the keel was now moving in the for and aft direction. I was only around 100nm from the Azores, so I had to make the very sad decision to head to Horta rather than risk the 1200nm to France with a hurricane force depression approaching,” said Holden after making the official decision to head to port.

Holden is currently 70 nm from the Azores and sustaining 9 knots under a reef 4 mainsail and a torn J3 jib. Safran’s shoreside team has been contacted to assist in damage assessment and repairs upon arrival, as Holden’s underfunded team alone cannot offer the support he needs.  

More details to come as the situation develops and a more proper damage assessment is conducted in port. IMOCA rules allow competitors to deviate to port for repairs without being disqualified from racing, with the requirement that once in port the boat must stay for a minimum of 6 hours. So, the race is not yet over for O Canada and skipper Eric Holden.
Oh Canada Retires

Updated report as of 21 December 2015 — This weekend, Canadian Ocean Racing had to make the tough decision to retire from the Transat Saint Barths due to keel damage of the team’s open 60 O Canada. While two other IMOCA teams suffered from keel issues of their own, O Canada was unable to recover and her competitors left her behind in the Azores as the Transat Saint Barths finishes this week.

Although the full extent of the problem with the keel has not been ascertained, it appears to be good news that there is no observable metal fatigue. Surface level assessments concluded that the keel issues are likely a bearing problem rather than a structural failure. A full assessment cannot be made until O Canada can be lifted at the start of the new year.

Despite his determination to finish the race, Skipper Eric Holden weighed the risks and resources, and concluded that it would be impossible to finish the Transat Saint Barths. Given the uncertainty of the keel issue and the atrocious weather between the Azores and the finish line in Port La Foret France, the only sensible option was to stay put in Horta.   

“Obviously I am very disappointed to have had to retire from the race. We had overcome so many hurdles in this challenging race, yet the problem with the keel was one that we could not overcome,” said Holden.

The shore team for SAFRAN, a fellow competitor that also suffered keel issues, spent some time with Holden in Horta checking out the potential problem with O Canada’s keel. SAFRAN’s team believed that the issue is a so-called “keel plate bushing” for the axel that the keel pivots on in order to swing from side to side.  If this bushing is worn down by even a few millimeters, it could allow the keel to swing fore and aft slightly.  This sort of movement gets worse under the load of waves and could cause further damage to the keel joint, eventually breaking something significant and in the worst case tear the bottom of the boat off around the keel.

The only way to know for certain what the issue is, and to properly fix it, is to pull the boat out of the water and remove the keel.  The problem is there is no lift equipment big enough for the job at the marina where O Canada currently resides in Horta. The team  is working on a solution, but in the meantime the boat will remain in the Azores until the new year. Owen Clarke, designer of O Canada and many other open 60 racing boats, are being consulted to see if it would be safe enough to move O Canada to Europe with a full crew and favourable weather window to then undergo repairs.

But fans of Canadian Ocean Racing should not be discouraged. The team is determined to get O Canada race ready for her next solo race in May, the NYC-Vendee Race that preludes the much-anticipated Vendee Globe Race. Holden is also already back in the saddle, currently on his way to Australia to serve as navigator for Primitive Cool in the renowned Syndey-Hobart Race. Fans can follow Holden and his Sydney-Hobart team’s performance during this year’s race starting 26 December.

Canadian Ocean Racing is determined to sail on despite a disappointing close to 2015, and plans on making the most of 2016 as they prepare for the Vendee Globe Race at the end of 2016. With keel issues and a damaged sail wardrobe, the team needs to raise at least $100K to compete, but having already raised that much this year, the team is both hopeful and grateful for the generosity of their fans.

The Canadian Ocean Racing team will be at both the Toronto and Vancouver Boatshows in January, meeting fans, hosting seminars and several fundraising initiatives. The team will then reunite with O Canada in February to prepare her for another intense racing season ahead.



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