One sailor lost; another is found…

Instead of grappling with very uncooperative weather for spring prep, we’ll take a moment to share some sailing news. We have news both sad and glad.

Very sadly, a sailor died in the Clipper Around the World Race. Sarah Young, of Great Britain, was swept overboard. The yacht was approaching the international date line in the Pacific at approximately 39 degrees North by 160 degrees East. Ms. Young had just reefed the mainsail (reducing how much of that sail was deployed to depower). The winds were approximately 35-40 knots, which is gale force. Apparently, Ms. Young was not tethered to the yacht, and after being swept off her feet by a wave, was carried overboard. She was recovered later but never regained consciousness.

According to an on-line article by The Telegraph, a Clipper Race source stated the following:

“We have no idea why Sarah did not tether herself. It’s something that’s drummed into every crew member from the start: ‘Always tether yourself’.

“It’s just standard practice, like putting on your life jacket. We’re investigating, but only she knows why she didn’t.”

(Here’s a link to that entire article)

It is customary to tether oneself securely to the vessel when not down below if the conditions are adverse – stormy, poor visibility, short or single-handed, etc.  In this case, with gale force winds which, if sustained, would have resulted in seas of between 15 and 20 feet, conditions were not to be trifled with.  Apparently, Ms. Young had just reefed the vessel’s mainsail as described earlier, and had then been tidying up the cockpit area.

Securing oneself to the boat with a safety harness and tether, which run to a device called a jack line along the deck of the boat, does not guarantee one’s safety either.  People have gone overboard and broken free from the connections, and people have stayed connected but drowned or died from blunt trauma.  But these are extremely rare occurrences, and the tethering systems save lives.  I’ve been known to occasionally go sailing alone at night.  I tend to tie myself to the boat, just in case – even on calm evenings with warm water.  (I should always do it when alone, but admit to occasional bouts of complacency.)  It doesn’t take much to get into a lot of trouble very quickly.

Ms. Young was an entrepreneur, with a business that catered to adventures for well-heeled clientele. She was also quite the adventurer herself apparently, having done exotic and extreme adventure excursions in many locations.

This is the second fatality in this race event over its 20-year lifespan, with ten events over that time. Over 4,000 amateur crew have trained and participated over this time.  What’s a little scary, or perhaps just a testament to the random nature of odds and statistics, is that the other fatality was on the same boat, in the same race – just an earlier leg.  In September, on the first leg of the current event (from Portugal to Brazil), Andrew Ashman was fatally injured when struck by the mainsheet and possibly also the boom.  He was engaged in reefing the mainsail – the same task Ms. Young had just finished before being swept overboard.

(Before anyone starts thinking that reefing must be dangerous, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about it.  Ms. Young was done reefing before her accident.  It’s not clear how Mr. Ashman was injured while doing it.)

On a glad note, a sailor missing at sea for two months was found and recovered in good health. Louis Jordan, 37, departed Conway, South Carolina in January on his sailboat to go fishing in the Gulf Stream. He encountered rough weather and his vessel was was dismasted and otherwise disabled after being rolled and capsized. He survived on stored food on board supplemented by fish he was able to scoop up in a net. His main concern was lack of water – his supply was running low and rain was scarce.

He was rescued about 200 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina 66 days later. He had spotted a large vessel and tried to signal it to no avail, but after resorting to simply waving his arms back and forth, he was in turn spotted and rescued.

The open ocean is a harsh and unforgiving environment. She taketh away, but sometimes giveth back.

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