Prospector, the Mills 68 that was chasing the Annapolis-to-Newport Race record, was dismasted in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Prospector was sailing upwind in 20-25 knots of wind and pounding into eight-foot seas in the Atlantic Ocean when the rig failed around 3 a.m.
Annapolis resident Marty Roesch, one of four owners of the high-tech racing machine, said the headstay parted at the mast and the entire rig came down.
“The tang for the forestay sheared off for reasons we don’t know yet,” Roesch said. “We were pounding upwind in heavy air and high seas. There was 20,000 pounds of load on the backstay. When the forestay failed the backstay pulled the rig down.”
Roesch said the mast fell toward the stern and to leeward. Fortunately, all nine sailors on deck at the time were positioned to windward.
“Everybody was on the rail while the trimmer and helmsman were also on the high side so no one was in danger,” Roesch said.
Watch captain Paul McDowell called for all hands on deck and the entire 18-man crew set about sorting the situation. Roesch said the mainsail was too tangled up to be salvaged and had to be cut away. Also, the port side life lines were ripped away by the falling mast, spreaders and headstay.
“When I got on deck everything was calm. There was a plan in place as to what needed to be done and everyone got to work,” said Roesch, who had been sleeping in the cabin. “It was not real dramatic on deck. Everything was handled in a seamanship way.”
Prospector completed the 120-nautical mile Chesapeake Bay portion of the race in a phenomenal time of just over eight hours, rocketing downwind under various asymmetrical sails the whole way.
Roesch said the navigator and tactician decided to sail east for approximately four hours in order to improve the sailing angle before heading toward Newport.
Roesch said Prospector was 30 nautical miles offshore and 70 miles north of the Chesapeake Light when the incident occurred. The Mills 68 was beating under reefed main with a No. 2 genoa and pounding hard into the steep waves.
Roesch was told by the crew on deck at the time that they were about to crack off and set the fractional Code Zero asymmetrical spinnaker in order to sail a tight reach.
“We had an earlier failure on the boat when the hydraulic pump for the boom vang blew. There is speculation that could have been contributing factor, but we really don’t know at this point,” Roesch said.
Prospector motored back to Norfolk, Virginia to further assess the damage before the ownership group settled on the next course of action. A syndicate known as Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners consists of Roesch, McDowell, Larry Landry and Dr. David Siwicki.
Landry told The Capital on Friday night the syndicate had ambitious plans for the 2019 season with Annapolis-Newport to be followed by the Transatlantic Race, which starts June 25 off Newport. Once across the Atlantic Ocean, the plan was to compete in the Fastnet Race and Rolex Middle Sea Race.
“The Transatlantic Race is three weeks away. There is no way we can get the rig put in and tested in time to make the start,” Roesch said. “We’re going to figure out what is next for the program.”
Prospector was known as Allegre and Caol Ila under previous owners and has an impressive track record while based in the Mediterranean Sea. Since purchasing the Mills 68, the Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners had set the course record for the 2017 Marblehead-to-Halifax Race.