Stamm prematurely celebrates his return to the Race Course
Stamm prematurely celebrates his return to the Race Course

I am probably not adding anything that has not already been said on the disqualification of Bernard Stamm, but I just had to weigh in.

As you may know he had to stop and anchor in New Zealand to repair his hydro generators (both of them were broken). These are essentially propellers that get lowered into the water off the Transom and generate electricity from the movement of the boat through the water - brilliant! They save weight in liquid fuel (Diesel) that would otherwise be need to charge the batteries. The drag they offer is less than the performance penalty of carrying fuel - so long as they don't break and they have been a problem for several of teh Vendee skippers to date. Without the ability to charge the batteries Stamm could not run his auto pilot which is essential in single handed sailing. he obtained permission to use his engine to manouver his boat to anchor it where he could conduct the repairs.

Here are some quotations from the Vendee Globe Organization and from Stamm in which he tells the story of what happened

Sandy Bay recap

After anchoring Sandy Bay to the south of Enderby Island difficult conditions, Stamm awoke to find he had been joined in the compact cove by a Russian scientific ship which had anchored close to him. Realising Cheminées Pooujoulat’s anchor was dragging and he was drifting towards the ship, Stamm contacted the captain by VHF, and asked if he could lie alongside. He reported that when he was inside his IMOCA 60 preparing things to move, he came back on deck to find a Russian crewman on board:

“ When I saw my anchor was moving I called on the VHF to warn the other boat that I was getting closer. They are the one who told me I could tie up to them. I was running everywhere on the boat trying switch on everything. When I came out, there was someone trying to pull up the anchor. I did not even have time to tell him to get off my boat, especially since we were dragging. I finished pulling back up the anchor and he fastened the line to his boat. Any sailor in the world would have done the same thing, and it happened so fast that I did not think what is specified in the rules Maybe the captain of the Professor Khromov can testify but I'm not sure he would bring any new elements.”

I think there is little question that Bernard received outside assistance contrary to the race rules, but there seem to be extenuating circumstances here that make the penalty of disqualification seem too extreme.

Certainly Stamm never possessed the "guilty mind" that criminal lawyers speak of. By this I mean he never intended to break the rules. The Russian sailor boarded his boat uninvited. The Jury seems to have understood this part and decided that it was because he did not immediately ask him to leave and the subsequent help received from the Russian sailor in mooring to the Russian boat. Stamm explains how he let this happen as a matter of prudent seamanship. He simply had other things on his mind like the immanent collision with the Russian boat or possibly worse. I am not sure how close they were to shore of other hazards, but perhaps Stamm could elaborate on that in his reasons for requesting the hearing to be re-opened.

As a practical matter, the assistance offered by the Russian sailor was not worth much, although one wonders how Stamm would have been able to moor to their ship without some sort of help. It would be interesting to know if he could have actually boarded the Russian vessel with a line so as not to receive any help. Was there a ladder, was there something at his deck level to fasten a line to?

It might be useful for Stamm to elaborate on how he had planned to tie up to the Russian vessel without any help. One wonders how practical it was to even try to communicate about such matters in the heat of the moment without risking some terrible miscommunication.

What if the Russians, not understanding why he was boarding (can't receive outside assistance) and because he was refusing their help they had decided to "defend" themselves against this "crazy Swiss man"?

I doubt that Stamm speaks Russian and I doubt many of the Russian ship's crew speak fluent French or some other shared language. How would they even have figured that out in the heat if the moment? It could have been a real disaster and I have to trust Bernard's instinct that he did the right thing at the time all things considered. It was partly the fault of the Russian boat for mooring so close. Is this not somewhat like when other boats hit a trawler? Both the Russian Boat and her crew were essentially an "obstruction". This situation was created by the urgency of the moment and the communication barriers as a function of limited time and language.

Surely the jury can find a way to change the penalty to a time penalty rather than disqualification.

It will be interesting to see what Stamm comes up with.