Sailor in round-the-world race is 'lost at sea'

VIDEO: REUTERS
British yachtsman John Fisher (front) aboard the Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag yacht in February 2018.
British yachtsman John Fisher (front) aboard the Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag yacht in February 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the most demanding sailing challenges in the world. A race around the globe held every three years in 65-foot yachts, it tests sailors in sometimes brutal weather conditions over eight gruelling months.

On Tuesday (March 27), the fears of every yachtsman came true, as race organisers announced that a crew member of one of the boats was presumed lost at sea.

As the racers crossed the Pacific on leg seven, between Auckland, New Zealand, and Itajai, Brazil, John Fisher, a 47-year-old Briton sailing for a Hong Kong-based team, Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, was swept overboard in strong winds 2,200km west of Cape Horn.

The incident was reported on Monday, and on Tuesday morning Eastern time, organisers said Fisher was presumed lost.

"The Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag team conducted an exhaustive search for several hours in extremely challenging weather conditions, but they were unable to recover their teammate," said Richard Brisius, the race president, in a statement.

Fisher was serving on watch and wearing survival equipment at the time he went overboard, organisers said.

A ship over 600km away was alerted and headed to the scene, but was unlikely to arrive within a day.

"With the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet approximately 200 miles (320km) downwind, sending them back upwind to assist, against gale to storm-force winds, was not a viable option," Brisius said.

"Given the cold water temperature and the extreme sea state, along with the time that has now passed since he went overboard, we must now presume that John has been lost at sea," he said.

Complicating rescue efforts was the remoteness of the boat.

Two days earlier, the race passed Point Nemo, the spot on earth that is farthest from land.

Brisius said the boat remained "in a challenging position - the weather is deteriorating and is forecast to be quite severe over the course of today. The crew is, of course, emotionally and physically drained after what they have just experienced."

Lee Seng Huang, owner of the boat, said in a statement: "Over our long passages, I have come to know 'Fish' well. Despite the dangers of the sport, he loved his sailing."

Scallywag's leg was suspended, but six other boats raced on.

This edition of the race began in Alicante, Spain, in October, and has made stops in South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and China. It was expected to finish in late June.

Fisher's team had stood in third place in the race overall after the last leg.

Belying the stereotype of patrician yachtsmen with jaunty caps swilling drinks and getting tan, ocean sailing can be extraordinarily dangerous.

In January, an US-Danish entrant in the Volvo race, Vestas, collided with a Chinese fishing boat in the middle of the night off Hong Kong, killing a fisherman.

In the 2016 Clipper Round the World Race, an amateur version of the Volvo, two crew members of a yacht were killed in separate incidents.

Andrew Simpson, an Olympic gold medalist, died in 2013 during testing for the America's Cup in San Francisco Bay when his yacht capsized.