Fifty-four years after Robin Knox-Johnston won the first round-the-world solo sailing race, organizers are again in the midst of a Golden Globe Race. And now one boat in the race has been lost in spectacular fashion.
All vessels must be production boats between 32 and 36 feet with an underbody like Knox-Johnston’s Suhaili, which was based on a full-keel Colin Archer design with keel-hung rudder. GGR skippers can only use the kinds of navigation equipment available on Suhaili, including sextants and trailing logs for speed.
On September 4th, 2022, 16 boats crossed the starting line at les Sables d’Olonne. By mid-November with leading boats in the Southern Indian Ocean, the fleet was down to 10. Numbers two and three, South African Kirsten Neuschafer and Finnish Tapio Lehtinen, had passed the gate at Cape Town very close together and were chasing the significant lead of Simon Curwen when Lehtinen’s boat, Asteria, suddenly flooded to deck level in five minutes and sank in 20 minutes. It was enough time for him to grab his ditch bag, set off the EPIRB and get into his life raft but not enough time to determine what caused the sinking. From his life raft he activated his PLB and communicated with race headquarters, which determined that the nearest vessels were a bulk carrier, and another race entrant, Kirstin Neuschafer. The South African sailor unsealed her emergency GPS and traveled through the night, reached Lehtinen in time to get him aboard, served him a glass of rum, and when the bulk carrier arrived, loaded him back into his life raft so the ship could get him on board.
Aside from the sheer bravado of Southern Ocean racing apparent in this story of “retro” sailing is how it may compare to a fatal overboard accident in the 2022 Newport to Bermuda race which led to a review by US Sailing and recommendations for changes to safety rules in the sport of ocean racing. The Golden Globe race committee tracks each boat throughout the race, and entrants carry a sealed box containing a GPS and satellite phone to be opened in an emergency. The race committee tracked Lehtinen’s position on Neuschafer’s emergency chart plotter and helped her reach it, but Neuschafer had to then communicate directly with Lehtinen himself to find him in the seas and coordinate the rescue. It would be interesting to know how she got him on board. Unlike Morgan of Marietta’s skipper, Lehtinen was not overweight or in health extremis, but any incidence of high seas retrieval can be a learning experience for us all.