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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Rescue operation continues

by Heather Ewing on 1 Apr 2012
Geraldton Western Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race competitor Geraldton Western Australia is undergoing a rescue operation after four crew members on board sustained injuries during storm force conditions, in the Pacific Ocean, around 400 miles off the California coast.

Yesterday a large wave washed over the Geraldton Western Australia yacht, sweeping away its steering mounting and wheel, some of its communications equipment and injuring four crew members.

Earlier plans to parachute US Coast Guard personnel onto the yacht from a C-130 plane, which had dropped additional medical supplies and specialist stretchers onto the yacht, were abandoned due to the weather conditions.

Currently 350 miles off the Californian coast, the yacht is beyond the range of a shore-based helicopter so a US Coast Guard cutter with a deck helipad has been dispatched to rendezvous with Geraldton Western Australia in order to carry out a two-part airlift if necessary. They are expected to reach the yacht at approximately 1530 UTC on Sunday (0830 local time, California).

Juan Coetzer, skipper of the Geraldton Western Australia yacht explained what happened when the wave hit.

'We were racing along in 40-60 knot gusts. The sea was alive with rage. We were making good speed, sailing with the third reef in the main, surfing at 15 - 20 knots. Then at our watch change, just before the sun came up, a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern. Mark Burkes was on the helm at the time. The water had so much force in it that it pushed Mark into the helm, snapping the pedestal clean off. We had no steering and crew were falling all over the boat.

'Quickly we got the emergency steering in place. Then the third reef blew, so the storm jib went up and we pulled down the remains of our main sail, tidied up the boat and the treated the wounded. In the afternoon a Coast Guard plane flew by and dropped us some extra supplies.'

US Coast Guard paramedics will assess the injuries before deciding whether to airlift any of the crew members. The injured crew include Jane Hitchens, 50, a doctor from Kent, UK, Nik Brbora, a 29-year old software engineer who lives in London and Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia.

If the airlift is required, when they are close enough to the yacht the helicopter will take off to airlift the casualty to the cutter, which will then head for port and when they are closer to shore will airlift the injured crew from the Coast Guard vessel to land.

Mark Burkes, 47, from Worcestershire, UK, is less seriously injured than originally thought.

The rest of the crew are uninjured but shaken by the incident. All of their families have been informed of the incident.

Six of the other nine yachts competing in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race have now arrived in Jack London Square, Oakland, California, where they will remain until the start of the next race on 14 April. Three others are expected to arrive in the next 24 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website

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