TRANSGLOBE: HMSTV Challenger suffers Mast Track problem and heads back to NZ

Issued: 15 February 2010

HMSTV Challenger suffers Mast Track problem and head back to NZ

A short holding statement was issued on Friday 12th Feb, 2010 by the Exercise TRANSGLOBE Project Officer, Squadron Leader Neil Cottrell, explaining that HMSTV Challenger (Army) was approximately 300 nm East of the Chatham Islands on Thursday 11 Feb when the skipper, Becky Walford, reported that the mainsail mast track has lifted from the mast for a distance of about 3m in the area of the top shroud fitting.

This damage prevents the mainsail from being hoisted fully and so the crew needed to make some urgent repairs. The other two yachts participating in Exercise TRANSGLOBE, Adventure (Royal Navy) and Discoverer (RAF), converged on Challenger’s position and a transfer of spares and tools to make good the damage has since been completed. The skippers of Adventure and Discoverer have checked their own mast tracks for damage and have found none and have turned Eastwards to resume the passage to Montevideo.

Project HQ in Gosport has now received the following first-person account of what happened and the current situation from Challenger’s JSASTC staff skipper, Becky Walford:

“We were enjoying some excellent Southern Ocean conditions one morning, with squalls and sunshine. After a fine breakfast of (you guessed it) porridge I thought I would get my morning dose of Vitamin B. The Watch Leader suggested that we should shake a reef out. What an excellent idea, so the team went up to the mast to start preparing the lines. Agh, with a quick look aloft it was soon apparent that there was a little hiccup with our plan. Firstly the sliders that hold the top of the main sail to the mast track had come off, a little strange we thought. Then with more inspection we observed that a section of the mast track had peeled away from the back of the mast. This is quite fundamental to the everyday operation of the good ship Challenger as this piece of hardware holds the mainsail to the mast. We took the mainsail down and re-attached the sliders that had come off and then started to scratch our heads.

“With more inspection with the binoculars it was soon apparent that an even closer inspection was required. I donned the man aloft gear and took a trip up the mast, firstly letting our RAF colleagues on Disco (Discoverer) know on the VHF in case we needed more help.  After an interesting trip aloft and getting some bruises, the worst was confirmed. Some of the track had definitely come away and would require more attention. So we touched base with Disco again and she turned back.  We decided that we should have to get the mast track roughly back in place, as where it had come away from the back of the mast, it was chaffing on the main halyard. Shortly after we put the mainsail back up and hove too.

“Meanwhile, Major Olly King donned the man aloft kit and went up armed with his camera. He managed to give us three new go faster stripes around the mast to attached the damaged track back to the mast and stop it rubbing on the main halyard and took some pics. Soon Disco appeared on the horizon and advised us that she was carrying the fleet rivet gun and some spare track. That afternoon we performed a boat to boat transfer with Disco using heaving lines and we received the spares. Sadly Disco didn’t have any rivets. We had contacted Adventure (Navy) and at the evening ‘Sched’ she confirmed that she was bearer of the rivets. Between us we decided that we had to meet up and transfer spares.

“Much head scratching was to be had as to how we would actually repair the mast whilst in the rolling swells of the southern hemisphere, bearing in mind the difficulties the rigger had had in the yard when the boat was on the side. So Disco and Challenger had a night hove too in the Southern Ocean!!! At daybreak Adventure appeared from over the horizon and she also hove to to inspect her mast as Disco had done the previous day. Adventure confirmed that their mast was OK as was Disco’s. Another perfect ship to ship transfer with the throwing line amongst the swells ensured that Challenger essentially had all the bit and bobs to do the repairs.

“With the fleet having left Auckland a little behind schedule, Challenger gave both Disco and Adventure three cheers for their support and wished them fair winds and fast sailing as they continued east and we turned west.  Being hove too we had much time to think about how realistically we could carry out the repairs at sea and concluded that we would have to seek shelter. The nearest piece of land is the Chatham Isles which were about half way between us and New Zealand!  Off we set, but with inspection of the Lonely Planet and some advice from the New Zealand Royal Navy we concluded that perhaps the Chathams was a nice place for a cruise or holiday,  but not really the place to re-fuel and re-provision a 14-man yacht.  So we are to continue to Wellington.

“We are making best speed with our three reefs in as this is as much mainsail as we can hoist and have had some squalls as well. But we are now proceeding at a good speed using some of the Queen’s finest diesel. How long will we be in Wellington? Long enough to re-fuel, re-provision and have the mast mended professionally with some of the spares that are being flown in from the UK. After this is all complete we will return to the spot where the fleet hove too and transferred spares and we will continue our passage against the clock, hoping to beat Discoverer and Adventure’s time and hence win the leg.”

Onboard Challenger, Becky has charge of a crew from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.  Becky is fresh from her success in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race as the skipper of Discoverer the RAF yacht that won the Oggin Trophy presented to the first Armed Forces entry and as the first female skipper to cross the finish line. Her crew includes personnel only recently returned from operations in Afghanistan and she is skippering an all-male team.



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