bad shape

There is a dramatic mid-ocean rescue underway. I use the word ‘rescue’ loosely because the outcome is still far from certain. British sailor Ian Herbert-Jones has been rolled and dismasted in the South Atlantic in a hellish storm that has, for the past 24 hours, has been a combination of gale-force winds and an extremely confused sea. Herbert-Jones, sailing aboard his 35-foot Tradewind cutter Puffin, is a competitor in the Golden Globe Race, a solo, non-stop race around the world in boats reminiscent of the original Golden Globe Race that took place in 1968.

The storm was not unexpected. An intense low-pressure system that formed off the coast of Brazil seemed to have Herbert-Jones in its sights and they collided yesterday in a sailor’s worst nightmare. The weather files showed winds gusting to 80-knots, the equivalent of a Category 2 Hurricane. To make things worse a large seaway generated by a storm to the north collided with an uneven swell coming up from the southeast to combine into a Perfect Storm, again ‘perfect’ being a term used loosely because there is nothing perfect about being alone mid-ocean when Mother Nature conspires against you.

Ian set off his EPIRB shortly after being rolled to let race control know that his mast had broken and was over the side and banging against the hull. The boat had two feet of water down below most likely from waves crashing over the deck and cascading down the companionway. Herbert-Jones reported that he had hurt his back and had a bad cut on his head.

Ian secured the boom but waited for daylight to cut the mast away. After some (I presume strong) pain medication kicked in he was able to get on deck. It’s unclear as of writing if he has been able to clear the wreckage. It’s every sailor’s nightmare to have a mast banging against the hull and breaching it. If the boat sank there would be little chance for survival in a life raft in those conditions.

Herbert-Jones and Puffin are currently 1,200 miles east of Argentina. Race Operations have been working in coordination with MRCC Argentina to coordinate a rescue. Now let me, if I may, interject a personal observation as someone who has sailed around the world a number of times. There is nothing, absolutely nothing (in my opinion) like the brotherhood of mariners, from those that ply the oceans in large container ships, to those that choose to sail alone in small boats. When it comes to rescuing a fellow mariner there is no hesitation. It didn’t take long before a number of vessels, some of them fishing vessels, had agreed to divert to attempt a rescue. It should be noted that some vessels declined because of the absurd weather conditions. One can only imagine if a ship was unwilling, or incapable of managing the conditions, how Ian must be faring.

As of this morning US EST there were a number of vessels heading toward Ian’s position ready if at all possible, to carry out a rescue. The Lilibet, a UK flagged 50-meter long fisheries patrol vessel was approximately 300 miles south of Puffin heading towards his position. Another ship, the FADACAI has also been routed toward Puffin’s position with an ETA of 1400 ARG/1700 UTC. Lilibet has since been released from the rescue effort but is still en route to Puffin’s position just in case it’s needed.

On the good news front, the wind is moderating and Ian seems to be in control of things. At least his boat is intact and the skipper in one piece. Solo sailing around the world is not for the faint of heart. More updates to come.