Transatlantic Competitor Forced to Abandon Yacht

Published on May 14th, 2016

British sailor Richard Tolkien, one of the competitors in The Transat bakerly transatlantic race from Plymouth to New York, abandoned his yacht and boarded the Cargo Ship ANTON TOPIC at 21:40 GMT on May 13, the 12th day of the race.

At 19:45, Race Control received a demand for assistance from Tolkien, the skipper of the IMOCA 60, 44, at a position approximately 880 nautical miles west, southwest of Horta in the Azores.

Tolkien, 61, from Lymington in Hampshire on the English south coast, had been sailing in last place in the IMOCA fleet in an old Finot-design from 1998 that was originally called Sodebo and sailed by Frenchman Thomas Coville.

Tolkien took the difficult decision to abandon the boat, called 44 after the UK dialing code, making the perilous but successful transfer to the ship.

“I had had a sustained period of bad weather…and the wind had started to go down from 40 knots to 30,” he said on the satellite phone from the bridge of the Anton Topic this morning (May 14) as it made its way towards Philadelphia.

“I thought there was no trouble ahead and I was down below, looking forward to calmer conditions, when there was a large bang. The fitting holding the staysail stay to the deck had ruptured. By the time I got on deck the sail was flailing around. I turned the boat downwind and spent the next two hours trying to sort out the mess – it is very difficult on a boat of that size.

“I was hit in the face and then later again by a glancing blow to the side of the face by the furling drum at the bottom of the stay. On the second occasion there was a lot of blood on the deck and I went down into the cabin and realised I needed to call for assistance.

“I used the AIS (Automatic Identification System) to call up the nearest ship and the Anton Topic and its captain and crew were not too far away and came towards me and manoeuvred their ship alongside me. It was not easy at all and then I had to climb up the pilot ladder at the side of the ship and I only just made it, so it was very difficult.

“I had to leave the boat which has a tracker on it – not an easy situation – and I hope to rescue the boat. It was just a glancing blow – but if it had been a bit more full-on, then the outcome could have been very different,” Tolkien concluded.

When he got on board the Anton Topic he was treated by the ship’s medic who applied four stitches to his head wound. After a few hours sleep on board, Tolkien said he was happy that all his faculties were intact. “Apart from being tired and bit shocked, I’m OK,’ he said.

A former civil servant and corporate financier, Tolkien is an experienced amateur ocean racer. He completed this race in 1992, finishing 6th in the monohull division after 17 days. In 2000 he entered the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race but had to retire halfway down the Atlantic with sail damage. In 2010 he finished 33rd in the Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe.

At the start of this race Tolkien said his aim was not to beat the other boats in his class but to qualify for the Vendée and learn about his boat.

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About The Transat
Twenty-five boats set sail May 2, 2016 on one of the great races in solo sailing, the 3,050-nautical mile passage across the north Atlantic from Plymouth to New York. Alongside 24 competing skippers is a one-off entry by the French racing legend Loick Peyron who is sailing Eric Tabarly’s 44ft wooden ketch Pen Duick II in the same trim as she was when Tabarly raced her to victory in The Transat (then called the OSTAR) in 1964.

The OSTAR (Observer Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race) was created in 1960 by a handful of pioneering sailors. The race was organised every four years by the Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC) from 1960 through to the 2000 event, albeit with a lot of involvement from the French event organiser Pen Duick in the 90s, in order to cater for the demands of the professional campaigns that dominated the event.

After the 2000 edition, OC Sport stepped in to develop the event and acquired the rights to the professional part. OC Sport organised The Transat in 2004 and 2008, the 2012 edition was deferred at the request of IMOCA (the largest competing class).

The RWYC continues to organise a solo transatlantic race for Corinthian and non-professional sailors that is still known as the (O)STAR,. This race usually falls a year after the professional big boat race i.e. 2005, 2009, 2013, 2017. Both the amateur Yacht Club event and The Transat have the right to link to the history of the original race created in 1960, and to the rich history it has produced.

The first race was competed by just a handful of pioneering sailors including Francis Chichester and Blondie Hasler who coined the phrase: “One man, one boat, the ocean.” There has been tragedy, dramatic rescues and exceptional drama since the race began in 1960. Over time The Transat, as it is known today, has evolved and now serves the professional end of offshore sailing. But there are few modern day races that can reflect on such a long and outstanding history.

Monohull IMOCA 60 record: 12 days, 11 hours and 45 minutes set by Loick Peyron (FRA) on board Gitana in 2008. Multihull 60ft record: 8 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) on board Géant in 2004.

Source: The Transat

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