A search and rescue operation is underway amid gale force winds on the Southern Ocean after a sailor fell overboard in the Volvo Ocean Race.
British sailor John Fisher, a member of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, was reported overboard early on Tuesday (NZT), launching a search and rescue mission. The remaining crew were reported safe.
The incident took place about 1400 miles west of Cape Horn. VOR Race Control said the weather conditions were not great with strong 35-knot winds. The water temperature was 9 degrees Celsius. Fisher was wearing survival equipment.
World map and weather interactive boat tracker for the Volvo Ocean Race.
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) was leading the operation. The nearest non-race vessel was a ship some 400 nautical miles away. It had been diverted to the scene.
Searchers are battling gale force winds on the Southern Ocean to look for British man, John Fisher.
The remainder of the race fleet was continuing on the leg to Itajaí, Brazil, that departed Auckland earlier this month. It was day nine of the 7600-mile leg to South America.
Not the first time
Another crew member of Scallywag, Australian Alex Gough, was washed overboard in winds of 15-20 knots during the fourth leg of the Ocean Race between Melbourne and Hong Kong in January.
Gough was quickly rescued, unharmed, and back on board within seven minutes, with the incident taking place in daytime in fairly flat conditions, so Scallywag then resumed racing.
“He went out on the outrigger, I was driving, and we went off a big sea and it picked him up threw him off, like a horse,” Scallywag skipper David Witt said after Gough went overboard when not wearing a harness or lifejacket.
“The main thing is, we got him back on board. He’s safe. But I think it’s shown everyone how hard it is to see the guy in the water. Even on a sunny day, 18 knots of wind – you wouldn’t want to be doing this in 20 knots in the dark.”
A scary moment on Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag with a man overboard scenario on an earlier leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Gough said: “I was pretty stupid, but luckily the guys were on to it. They turned around bloody quickly. I’m good. I’m fine. It was a bit scary. But off we go again.”
Kiwi sailor Peter Burling then described Gough’s dramatic rescue as “incredibly lucky” given the favourable conditions.
“The man overboard for me personally is the most scary thing,” he said “Like David Witt said, it was warm water, it was daytime and relatively light, and nearly everyone was up and doing a sail change so they could turn around and get him pretty quickly.”
Burling said it’s very easy for a situation like that to go incredibly wrong.
“We treat it as though if you go overboard that that’s the end. So we do everything we can to make sure you stay on the yacht. If there’s any risk, you clip in and you communicate well.”
Five people have lost their lives at sea during the Volvo Ocean Race’s 40-year history, most recently in 2006 when Dutchman Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard.
Horrevoets’ ABN AMRO One boat was buried in a big wave when racing across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Portsmouth.