Titanium Keel Investigation Complete
Titanium Keel Investigation Complete

I have not been blogging much lately. The End of the World had me a little pre-occupied. I have been madly trying to finish building a DN ice boat in the basement. I figured that the end of the world would either be a hot one or a cold one. If it was cold, I would not have wanted to be without an ice boat. I just could not fathom having all that time on my hands and nothing to do.

Well the world did not end and the lake is still not frozen. Pray for ice!

Back to the Vendee Globe

The French Commentators were openly wondering why the British sailors were celebrating Christmas on December 21st. I've done a little research and it seems to be related to the pagan observance of the winter solstice, although the exact explanation appears to be a somewhat murky matter. Personally I think they function on the original "Island Time" which is not several hours behind the mainland as often believed. Being several days ahead of the rest of the Christian world is probably in no small part the reason why they were able to rule over such a vast part of the world. Not sure it helps the Vendee skippers much, but they did get lots of media attention with Christmas messages and Santa hats. Looking forward to seeing how the Euros celebrate at sea.

One of the more impressive stories I have heard coming out of the Vendee Globe Race in recent days was a story about how Mike Golding had managed a knock down. Apparently he had been knocked down and had too much sail up. He needed to get foresails furled but there was just too much wind. I have certainly been there on O CANADA. Fortunately we had three guys to grind in the genoa and we had to take turns on the grinding pedestal. Hard to understand how it would even be possible alone, tired and scared.

In a flash of brilliance Golding dumped his keel to leeward causing the boat to lay over on its side and thus taking the pressure out of the sails. It worked. This is counter intuitive. Most of us would want the boat as level as possible not on its ear and in the heat of the moment we are even less likely to think outside the box like Mike did. Having this sort of presence of mind to be able to make rational, counter intuitive decisions in such challenging contexts is a mark of true sporting excellence and incredible seamanship. I'm so impressed! Well done Mike.

On the other hand Mr. Golding is a smoker and so he does not always make great decisions :) I only know this because we bought one of his used spinnakers from Ecover to use for the Transpac aboard O CANADA in 2011. It was delivered to Long Beach just a day before the race and the first thing we noticed was that it smell like cigarette smoke. Despite the smell, it was a good thing it arrived in time because our primary spinnaker was shredded about 3 hours after we put it up. We basically sailed with Mike's kite for the remaining 2000 nm all the way to Hawaii. Watch the film about O CANADA's Adventures in the 2011 Transpac and see Mike Golding's stinky kite at: Transpac Documentary.

Safran Keel Investigation

I hate to say I told you so but .... Well actually its great fun being right occasionally. Actually its always fun but does not happen often enough:)

Way back at the start of the race, after Safran's Titanium keel fell off, I was critical of the design team in using a material that while light and stiff was well known to be more brittle than the more conventional steel and Carbon keels. It turns out I was right. The keel failed due to metal fatigue.

I was surprised that anyone with as much Open 60 experience as Marc Guillemot would not be highly suspect of the potential for metal fatigue in a material such as Titanium, based on the first hand knowledge he has of the relentless pounding these boats take. Remember the boats will be sailing up-wind, on a tight or even broad reach with the keel canted over to windward at 35- 40 degrees from the centerline. every time they launch off a wave the full force of the boat plus all the leverage the keel can provide gets applied to the area of the keel near where it pivots at the hull. This is the last place one would want to take any chances with a material prone to fatigue. Apparently these loads had been measured in race conditions and that data was used in the design of the Titanium keel. I am not an engineer but in my experience such measurements are rarely simple. If it were my boat I would have ensured the careful measurements were done but I would have suggested that the designers design the the keel for double those loads. Science has produced some great things but not without a great deal of trial and error. I am sure that the Safran keel failure has moved the science of load measurement on Open 60 keels ahead incrementally, but at the 50,000 ft level it sure seems like it should have been obvious this would happen if they pushed the limits of the material in the first iteration. Big budget projects have special challenges all of their own.

For the full story go to:http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en/news/article/7327/safran-s-broken-keel-results-of-the-investigation.html

For those of you celebrating on the 25th - Merry Christmas and for the rest Happy Holidays and may your keels stay attached in 2013.