Safety line undone when ocean sailor lost overboard

The Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag yachting team heads out of Waitamata Harbour in Auckland on March 18, 2018
AFP

Wellington (AFP) – A missing British round-the-world sailor unclipped his safety tether before a swinging boom knocked him into the churning Southern Ocean, likely rendering him “unconscious before he hit the water,” his crew-mates revealed Thursday.

John Fisher is presumed dead after going missing Monday while on watch aboard the yacht SHK/Scallywag in the Volvo Ocean Race some 2,250 kilometres (1,400 miles) west of Cape Horn on the tip of South America.

He was wearing survival gear but a desperate search by Scallywag failed to find him and the yacht was forced to head for port as weather conditions deteriorated.

Volvo Ocean Race organisers have promised an inquiry into the tragedy and the crew released a timeline early Thursday detailing what happened.

It revealed Fisher, 47, was on his way to untangle a sail at the front of the yacht when he was hit by a boom, sending him into the sea and probably knocking him unconscious.

“At the time, he was moving forward to tidy up the FR0 sheet and had therefore unclipped his tether,” the timeline posted on the race’s website said. 

“As the mainsail swung across the boat in the gybe, 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.”

– Crew distraught –

Scallywag team manager Tim Newton said he had spoken to skipper David Witt as the yacht headed for Chile and the entire team was distraught.

“This is the worst situation you can imagine happening to your team,” Newton said.

“We are absolutely heartbroken for John’s family and friends. I know for David, he has lost his best friend. It’s devastating.”

The race has already been marred by tragedy, when Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with a trawler on its way to Hong Kong, killing a fisherman.

The fleet set off from Auckland on March 18 on the toughest stretch of the around-the-world epic.

The 14,075 kilometre leg takes the yachts across inhospitable waters from New Zealand to Cape Horn and then up South America’s eastern coast to the Brazilian city of Itajai.

As Scallywag heads for Chile, the six other yachts in the fleet were approaching Cape Horn, with Team Brunel leading the way.

It was followed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing, MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team in a tight group, with Turn the Tide on Plastic and AkzoNobel bringing up the rear.

Turn the Tide on Plastic skipper Dee Caffari said her crew were thinking of Fisher, nicknamed “Fish”, and felt he was now watching over the voyage.

“Many tears were shed both openly and privately. Fish was a friend, a fan and a true supporter of our project,” she said. 

“He was a gifted sailor who was doing what he loved and that gives us solace at this difficult time.”.

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