The sailing world was both shocked and deeply saddened on Monday with the development of a tragic man-overboard situation in the Volvo Ocean Race. While sailing downwind at speeds of more than 20 knots deep in the throes of a Southern Ocean gale, Hong Kong entry Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag lost crewmember John Fisher (UK) overboard in the early hours of Monday morning, local time. The team had been sailing at the rear of the fleet of seven Volvo 65s, some 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn when the incident occurred. Conditions at the time saw winds of more than 35 knots, a massive sea state, and water temperatures hovering in the upper 40s.
After several hours of searching — and with the barometer on a constant decline and conditions forecast to further deteriorate — the team led by Australian skipper David Witt made the unquestionably hard decision to turn the boat back downwind and head toward the South American coast and relative safety. Sailing well behind the fleet when the incident occurred, it was decided that sending any of the other teams 200 miles upwind into gale-force conditions would have been a very risky and dangerous move with very little chance of reward. A commercial vessel was diverted to the scene from 400 miles away and — in theory at least — should have been on the scene to conduct a search yesterday. We have not heard any updates from this search.
Yesterday morning VOR President Richard Brisius issued a statement confirming that it’s assumed Fisher has been "lost at sea." Fisher is reportedly the seventh sailor to perish in the more than 40-year history of the race, and the first since 2006. He is, however, the second person to die in the past three legs of this edition of the VOR, as Vestas’ collision with a fishing boat outside Hong Kong at the conclusion of Leg 4 saw a local fisherman lose his life. Speaking of Leg 4 of the VOR, as we reported here on January 17, Scallywag had a man overboard incident then as well. There was a full write-up and even high-definition video of that incident immediately following.
SHK/Scallywag Team Manager Tim Newton, spoke with skipper David Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh and shared the following timeline:
- Weather conditions were 35-45 knots with 4- to 5-meter seas with showers reducing visibility. It was 15 minutes before sunrise.
- The team was sailing with a single reef in the mainsail and the J2 jib. The Fractional 0 sail was hoisted but furled.
- At roughly 1300 UTC SHK/Scallywag surfed down a large wave leading to an accidental crash jibe.
- John Fisher was on deck, in the cockpit. At the time, he was moving forward to tidy up the FR0 sheet and had therefore unclipped his tether.
- As the mainsail swung across the boat in the jibe, the mainsheet system caught John and knocked him off the boat. The crew on board believe John was unconscious from the blow before he hit the water.
- He was wearing a survival suit with a wetsuit hood and gloves and a lifejacket.
- The JON buoy and the horseshoe buoy were thrown off the back of the boat to mark the position.
- It took some time to get the boat under control and motorsail back to a position near where the man overboard occurred.
- At 1342 (UTC), the team informed Race Control, by email, that there was a man overboard and they were returning to the MOB position to start a search pattern.
- With input from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and Race Control in Alicante, a search and rescue operation was carried out for several hours but there was no sign of John, the horseshoe buoy, or the JON buoy.
- With weather conditions deteriorating, a difficult decision was taken to abandon the search and preserve the safety of the remaining crew.
The team has not resumed racing; rather they’re sailing in a northeasterly direction toward shore in Chile. "The conditions are extremely challenging, with strong winds and a forecast for a building sea state over the next couple of days," said Newton.
We at Latitude 38 would like to express our most sincere condolences to the family of the deceased and to the entire Scallywag crew and team. John Fisher, 47, leaves behind a wife and two children who reside in Adelaide, Australia.
As for the rest of the fleet, Team Brunel is having their breakthrough performance of this VOR and are closing in on Cape Horn with a lead of around 85 miles over the next five boats, which are grouped quite close.
In America’s Cup news, the NYYC challenger team has released their branding. The team will be called American Magic. Philip Lotz, commodore of NYYC, said, "America was the first boat to win the Cup in 1851. Magic was the first boat to defend the Cup in 1870. American Magic builds on the legacy of those two yachts, and the name embodies the mission of our campaign, which is to win the Cup and in the process build the foundation for a stronger competitive sailing culture in the United States."
American Magic’s design team is at work planning for the first of two AC75 class boats, and preparing for the publication of the AC75 Class Rule, scheduled to be released this Saturday, March 31. Meanwhile, the American Magic sailing team is currently training in Long Beach for April 13-15’s Ficker Cup, the qualifier for the Congressional Cup, at LBYC. The team plans to establish its primary base in Newport, RI, later this spring.
On the other side of the planet, plans to host the next Cup in 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand, have moved forward. Defenders Emirates Team New Zealand, the Auckland Council and the New Zealand government have agreed on the configuration of the event’s base village. A formal signing is expected March 29 (in New Zealand, it’s already Thursday morning as we write this).
To catch up on AC news, go to www.americascup.com.
Because Easter falls on April 1 this year, the coming weekend is light on regattas, but women skippers can still sign up for Island Yacht Club’s Sadie Hawkins Race (full crews, coed OK, this Saturday, on the Estuary, $20 entry fee). The Sadie Hawkins is part of Latitude 38’s Unofficial Women’s Circuit. Folsom Lake YC’s Trans-Folsom Champagne Challenge, a 21-mile pursuit race, will be the same day.
On April 7, the Bullship Regatta from Sausalito to San Francisco will carry adult El Toro sailors across the Gate in what is an annual ritual for many, part of a season series for some, and a bucket-list adventure for still others. Richmond YC is providing the race committee and Sausalito YC is hosting the launch. Awards will be presented on the lawn east of St. Francis YC. Cowships are needed to escort the 8-ft prams.
The little El Toros may once again find themselves crossing paths with the start of the Lightship race. Last year it was the OYRA Lightship; this year it’s IYC’s Doublehanded Lightship Race, headed out the Gate on April 7. Sign up now; after April 2 the entry fee goes up from $50 to $60.
Also on April 7 but 500 miles to the SSE, Silver Gate YC will host the America’s Schooner Cup Charity Regatta in San Diego. "If you are a Schoonerman come join the fun."
StFYC invites J/120, J/111, J/105, J/70, J/24 and J/22 classes to J/Fest on April 7-8.
The South Bay Interclub Series will begin on April 14. This popular series is run by 11 organizations, but you needn’t be a member of one of them to enter. The entry fee will go up $5 as of April 1. Also on that day, singlehanders and doublehanders will sail Round the Rocks in the third race of the SSS season. A skippers’ meeting will be held at IYC on April 11, which will also be the deadline to register.
Berkeley YC will hold their Rollo Wheeler Memorial Regatta on April 14-15, with buoy races on Saturday and a pursuit race on Sunday. Saturday night’s party will include margaritas, complimentary hors d’oeuvres, low-cost dinner, music, dancing, "lie swapping and other basic rowdiness."
Also on April 14-15 will be SFYC’s Resin Regatta. Melges 24, Etchells, Express 27, J/24, Cal 20, Knarr and Folkboat classes are invited to race on the Berkeley Circle.
FLYC’s Camellia Cup is coming to Folsom Lake the same weekend. "We are expecting 60 to 70 boats to participate this year," says Steve Galeria.
In the South Bay, Sequoia YC’s five-race Summer Series will start on April 14.
The OYRA’s first race of 2018 will be the Lightship on April 21.
RYC will continue their devotion to small boat sailing with the Big Dinghy Regatta on April 21-22.
On April 27-29 StFYC will host their second Women’s Match Racing Clinegatta with coaching by Liz Baylis and Nicole Breault. On-the-water practice and racing will be held in the club’s fleet of J/22s.
The Great Vallejo Race is usually held on the first weekend in May, but this year it will be on the last weekend of April, the 28th-29th. Race up to Vallejo YC on Saturday, race back to San Francisco Bay on Sunday. Raft up in VYC’s freshly dredged harbor, and party in between! StFYC’s Elvstrom/Zellerbach Regatta for dinghy classes will be on the same weekend.
Long Beach YC will be busy this month with match racing events: the conclusion of the California Dreamin’ Series on April 7-8, the Ficker Cup on April 13-15 and the premier event in West Coast match racing, the Congressional Cup on April 18-22.
That’s a lot and it’s just a small sample! Plus, we haven’t even mentioned Beer Can Series, most of which start in April. We’ll have to save that topic for another post. See the April issue of Latitude 38, coming out this Friday, for much more.