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Windtbot-COACH-720x90 USA Newsletter: Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race extracts tragic toll on fleet


Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race extracts tragic toll on fleet

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 to Auckland, day 19 on board Sun hung Kai / Scallywag. John Fisher at the helm supervising the sail mode. 26 February - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race

Dear [recipient name]

The past week has been an extremely rough one for the seven teams that are sailing from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil, on Leg 7 of the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR). Tragically, on Monday, March 26, 2018 at 1300 hours UTC, John Fisher (UK; 47) was swept off of Scallywag during an accidental gybe while the vessel was roughly 1,400 nautical miles west of Cape Horn, sailing in 35-45 knots of air and four to five meter seas. Despite the team's best efforts to find their lost mate, as well as the efforts of the VOR itself and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to try find the MOB, Fisher was lost at sea.

After searching for Fisher, Scallywag retired from racing and headed to the Chilean coast, their hearts and heads heavy with the weight of their lost friend and shipmate.

Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 6 on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. John Fisher in full safety kit and about to head out onto deck. 24 March,. - photo © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 6 on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. John Fisher in full safety kit and about to head out onto deck. 24 March,. - photo © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race

"We are devastated and our thoughts are with John's family, friends and teammates," said Volvo Ocean Race President Richard Brisius in an official VOR release. "This is heart-breaking for all of us. As sailors and race organizers losing a crew member at sea is a tragedy we don't ever want to contemplate."

According to reports, Fisher was wearing a survival suit at the time of the accident, and he had been moving forward on the boat to tidy up a sheet, temporarily untethering himself from the vessel, when the boat started surfing hard down a big wave, forcing the accidental gybe. Fisher was reportedly hit by the mainsheet system, likely knocking him unconscious before knocking him off the boat.

"We are deeply shocked by the loss of John Fisher, known to us sailors as 'Fish'," said Bouwe Bekking (NED), skipper of Team Brunel. "Our thoughts are with his family and of course the Scallywag crew. There hasn't been a moment since we heard that I didn't wake up thinking about him..."

Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 10 on board Brunel. Bouwe Bekking driving in a big sea state. 27 March,. - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 10 on board Brunel. Bouwe Bekking driving in a big sea state. 27 March,. - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race

As tragically sad as Fisher's death has been, the sailors competing in the VOR didn't have the luxury of being able to mourn for the loss of their mate as the "Furious Fifties" still had plenty of abuse left for the fleet, but fortunately (at least as of this writing) this translated to broken equipment and masts, not more lost or shattered lives.

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As mentioned in last week's newsletter, Spanish-flagged MAPFRE has been dealing with mast track and mainsail problems and effected a 13-hour pit stop to make repairs. As of this writing, the team has successfully rounded Cape Horn and is making roughly seven knots, VMG, towards the finishing line.

Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 14 on board Vestas 11th Hour. 30 March,. Mast Accident - 3 - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 14 on board Vestas 11th Hour. 30 March,. Mast Accident - 3 - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race

Unfortunately for Vestas/11th Hour Racing, their Leg 7 adventure came crashing down when they snapped their spar at the first set of spreaders, forcing them to retire from racing and head to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The team is planning on transiting to Itajai in time to have a new mast stepped ahead of Leg 8 (Itajai to Newport, Rhode Island).

The situation is more touch-and-go aboard Turn The Tide On Plastic, as the team has reported rigging damage (specifically, to their starboard spreader root), but the decision has been made to continue sailing under shortened canvas.

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 14 on board Turn the Tide on Plastic. - photo © Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 14 on board Turn the Tide on Plastic. - photo © Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race

While the big leg from New Zealand to Brazil has always had a reputation for testing sailors, skippers and teams, there's little question that this is the roughest VOR leg experienced in a long time. In fact, the VOR's last fatality was in 2006, when Hans Horrevoets (NED; 1974-2006) was lost off of ABN AMRO TWO as the 2005/2006 VOR fleet was crossing the North Atlantic. sends its thoughts and sympathies to Mr. Fisher's family and friends, and to the entire offshore sailing community as it wrestles with the loss of one of its own. Additionally, we have a candle lit that all teams reach Itajai with enough time to spare to begin to digest Leg 7 before launching into Leg 8.

May the four winds blow you safely home

David Schmidt

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