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GGR 2018 racers suffer storms, dismastings, injury and an internationally coordinated rescue

by David Schmidt 24 Sep 2018 11:30 PDT September 24, 2018
Abhilash Tomy aboard Thuriya, a replica of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's yacht Suhail, winner of the first GGR 50 years ago. The yacht is now dismasted and her skipper injured some 1,900 miles west of Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia. © Christophe Favreau / PPL / GGR

I'll admit that I was riveted to the story of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race of 1968-1969, as told by Peter Nichols in his book, A Voyage For Madmen, which documented the famous race that saw Sir Robin Knox-Johnston etch his name in sailing history by becoming the first person to sail nonstop, solo and unsupported around the world aboard his trusty masthead ketch Suhaili. So, when Australian adventurer Don McIntyre announced the Golden Globe Race 2018, which would use era-specific vessels, equipment and navigation gear to simulate the 1968-1969 race, I knew that the sailing world was in for something far, far different than the glossy-looking reports that we often see coming from high-dollar, corporate-sponsored events.

And while I suspected that we would see plenty of human drama, I assumed that most of this would be related to the inevitable "thinning of the herd" that would unfurl in the first few weeks of the challenge, rather than dismastings and medical injuries eighty-plus days into the race, but that's exactly what happened last Friday (September 21), when a violent Southern Indian Ocean storm hammered the fleet with 70 knots winds and 14 meter (46 feet!) seas.

Dutch-flagged sailor Mark Slats (41), who was lying in second place, suffered two knock downs aboard his Rustler 36 The Ohpen Maverick, while Irishman Gregor McGuckin (32), sailing aboard his Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance, suffered a knock down, followed by a rolling, that left his boat fully dismasted, his interior in shambles and his fuel contaminated, effectively ending his race. Luckily, both Slats and McGuckin survived their calamities more or less unscathed, with Slats continuing to race.

Sadly, the same could not be said of their fellow competitor Abhilash Tomy (39) of India, who serves as a Commander in the Indian Navy and is one of India's most decorated and respected sailors. Tomy suffered a rolling that left his Thuriya (a replica of Knox-Johnston's Suhaili) without masts and, even worse, he badly injured his back and was forced to send a message to race headquarters stating "ROLLED. DISMASTED. SEVERE BACK INJURY. CANNOT GET UP."

Thus began a wild weekend of race updates as organizers and rescue authorities scrambled to get aid to Tomy, who was situated roughly 1,900 miles southwest of Perth, Western Australia, when the accident unfurled. While McGuckin's fuel was contaminated, meaning he couldn't use auxiliary power, the Irishman jury-rigged and then swung his bow towards his stricken fellow competitor, sailing to him at a clip of two to three knots (at one point the plan was for McGuckin to abandon his own boat and join Tomy aboard Thuriya, so as to lend medical support and a satellite phone to the situation).

Fortunately, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Canberra, Australia, was able to direct the Osiris, a French fisheries patrol vessel, to help with the rescue, and the French-flagged crew reached Tomy today (Monday) at 0530 hours, UTC, and successfully transferred him to their vessel.

McGuckin, at the time of Tomy's rescue, was still some 25 nautical miles away from Thuriya, and 1,900 miles from Perth, and-with a broken set of sticks and contaminated fuel, made the wise decision to also request a controlled evacuation. Given that his stricken vessel is only capable of making a few knots, VMG, and given the remoteness of his location, McGuckin wisely understood that requesting help now would place rescue crews-not to mention himself-in considerably less danger than if he actually required rescue during a future storm.

The Osiris is currently sailing for Amsterdam Island, where the sailors can be given proper medical evaluations.

So while some sailors, including members of the sailing media, have dismissed this race as a retro event that's playing out at a blistering four or five knots (fast compared the McGuckin's jury rig but dog-slow compared to the speeds regularly experienced by today's record-setting maxi trimarans), the weekend's drama is a perfect example of the kind of adventure, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption-not to mention polished seamanship-that truly sets this race apart.

Sure, the boats are old and slow compared to the newest-generation IMOCA 60s, but-given that, as of this writing, only eight of the original 18 skippers are still racing for the GGR 2018 trophy-there's no question that sailing solo and unsupported around the world in a vintage vessel is no easier today than it was in 1968, when Knox-Johnston hoisted sail en route to becoming a living legend.

Sail-World.com expresses our gratitude to the Australian Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, and to all other parties involved in this rescue, and we wish Tomy the best of luck with his recovery. As for McGuckin, limping under broken poles to help a stricken competitor is exactly the type of spirit that this race represents, and is one of the better acts of seamanship that we have heard of in a long while.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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