What to do if your boat is damaged just days before a non-stop global circumnavigation? Rupert Holmes reports on how Abhilash Tomy and his team carried out a remarkable repair
Abhilash Tomy faced more pressure than most ahead of the start of the 2022 Golden Globe Race.
During the race prologue, from the Spanish port of Gijon to Les Sables d’Olonne in western France, his Rustler 36 Bayanat was involved in a collision with a cargo vessel.
Fortunately, his boat didn’t appear to be seriously threatened, beyond damage to the forestay chainplate.
However, as is often the case, the full extent of the damage was not obvious at sea.
After Abhilash Tomy docked in Les Sables d’Olonne, the scale of the repair needed became clear.
More than 18in of the bow section of the hull – and a larger portion of the deck – was severely delaminated and had to be cut away in a drastic, but necessary, first step.
After the incident Abhilash Tomy’s first satellite phone call – even before his wife or the race organisers – was to his technical manager, Dutch naval architect Dick Koopmans.
He’d been responsible for the refit of Bayanat in readiness for the race and had performed the same role for Mark Slats in the first revived Golden Globe in 2018.
The key question was how to replace the missing material and make it sufficiently strong to take both forestay loads and the considerable slamming that’s possible in such a long voyage.
To make matters worse, this was mid-August, when most of Europe is on holiday. And there was barely more than two weeks until the race start.
Fortunately Koopmans knew a Rustler 36 – Paul Willaert’s Fair Isle – that lives next to Jan Vandamme’s Scheepsweven yard in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Koopmans had two on-going projects there, building ocean rowing boats for Mark Slats, so figured it likely the yard could divert resources to the urgent matter of fixing Bayanat.
“Jan is a racing guy who likes Abhilash’s project,” Koopmans told me in Les Sables d’Olonne.
“They became a really important part of the team doing the repairs, making a mould, transporting it here and doing a lot of work, all for a very fair price.”
Their first step was to use Fair Isle’s bow to laminate a mould of exactly the right shape to enable a new nose to be made for Bayanat.
They also made a new stainless steel bow roller and forestay chainplate.
The mould was transported to Les Sables d’Olonne by one of Scheepsweven’s employees, Benjamin Van Welden and his partner Ibe Steedman.
Coincidentally, Ibe had time booked off for a holiday and she works in a vaguely related field: making high-tech carbon fibre structures to very demanding specifications for use in prosthetics.
This proved to be a useful background for major boat repairs.
While the mould was being built and transported, Koopmans set about preparing the boat for work.
Bayanat was lifted ashore, the mast craned off and then towed across to a shed across a busy roundabout from the harbour.
After ascertaining the extent of the delamination, Koopmans then chopped off the front of the hull neatly using a circular saw with a blade for wood and non-ferrous metals.
Next was a dusty task, grinding an internal bevel on the almost half inch thick hull laminate.
This extended back roughly 10-15cm to give a large area over which the new lamination could be tapered, in much the same way as scarf joints are used in woodworking.
The next step was to stick the mould in the right place on the outside of the hull, using tape to keep it in position.
Then a wooden flange was taped on top to replicate the shape of the original laminate, which had a plinth around the edge of the hull on which the deck sits.
After that the Belgian team laminated the new hull section inside the mould.
They started with two layers of chopped strand mat, before applying 12 layers of heavy 600gsm biaxial fibreglass cloth, plus additional layers locally over the join, approximately doubling the thickness of that area of hull.
In theory this was overkill and is a lot stronger than the original layup, which was predominately in chopped strand mat.
However Koopmans was keen to retain the original weight of the bow section so Abhilash Tomy couldn’t be accused of gaining an advantage through making a hi-tech repair that reduces weight right forward.
The new chainplate for the forestay has an internal knee to add strength, so a slit had to be cut in the new bow to allow for this.
The team also placed a thick full-width aluminium backing pad under the flange, which helps to distribute loads.
No access to this area was possible inside the hull, as the void between two forward crash bulkheads is filled with foam, so the new section of deck had to be laid in two sections from the outside.
The forward section is of a size that allows the chainplate and bow roller to be bedded in and bolted down, and has a long scarf that gives a good bonding area (which is matched at the aft end) for the final section to be laminated and bonded in place.
As the hull was already painted there was no need to start with applying a layer of gelcoat ahead of the structural lamination.
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Antony Cole writes: “I have 50-year-old GRP trimaran with damaged gel coat undersides. “The gelcoat was left rough and pitted…
However, the repair still needed to be faired smooth with the rest of the hull.
Standard practice is to use an epoxy based filler, which has potential to last almost indefinitely.
However, even with fast hardeners, several hours are needed for each layer to set and time was rapidly running out.
Instead Koopmans used a fast-setting two-part paste that can be sanded 10 minutes after application.
For this stage he made a small longboard-style sanding pad, using an 18in long piece of plywood cut to the width of a roll of abrasive paper, with a batten attached on the back to use as a handle.
It’s surprising how quickly areas can be sanded by hand using a simple homemade device that maximises the area of abrasive paper in contact with the surface.
He started with 80-grit paper to rapidly knock the high spots off, especially on the join between old and new sections of laminate, before working through progressively finer grades in preparation for painting.
Bayanat is a sponsored boat, so the finish needed to look as perfect as possible, despite the tight time frame.
Koopmans had already painted the topsides himself earlier in the summer (the window available was too short to get a contractor lined up for the job) and he had paint from the original batch left over, so there were no worries about colour matches.
He recommends Deljssel Double Coat, a two-pack product that’s easy to apply yourself using a roller.
Nevertheless a late August heatwave in Les Sables d’Olonne meant three coats were needed.
Despite the extent of the damage and the need to haul the boat ashore and transport it to a shed away from the marina, the repair was completed and the boat relaunched within 10 days of her arrival in Les Sables d’Olonne, barely more than a week before the start of the race in early September.
To achieve this Koopmans says on some days they were working until midnight and then starting again at 0500. “Everyone was ready to help,”
Abhilash Tomy posted on Facebook: “The city of Les Sables d’Olonne gave a shed, organised tractors, GGR kept us off most of the engagements which bought us time, [fellow competitor] Ertan Beskardes cleaned up the boat and supplied meals to the entire team, and just about every competitor landed at the boat with their team managers with offers to help. Looking back, it all looks like a jigsaw puzzle. We found all the pieces and they all fit in well. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
A vital lesson
The Belgian team’s focus on the laminating work allowed Koopmans to address other problems that had resulted from the collision.
One spreader had hit the ship and was bent slightly, so both that and the cap shroud needed attention.
It’s an important lesson for all of us that it’s vital to look beyond the obvious damage and examine every aspect of the boat after such an incident.
There was also damage to the headsail furler.
Knowing that it’s increasingly difficult to source parts, Koopmans called Seldén immediately to find out if there was a one in stock – fortuitously there was and he reserved it immediately.
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