Port and Starboard

By now you will all know we were involved in a collision at the start of leg 3 and are in port awaiting repairs. I was interviewed about the race and life recently and some of the questions were ‘what do you fear the worst could happen’ ‘what if we didn’t return etc. I think my answer at the time was that the worst thing would be if was injured and could not continue in the race . My reasoning is of course if I went overboard and drowned well my family and friends would be devastated but know I died while doing something I loved and fulfilling my dreams etc. But now I think the worst thing has happened(even though it could have been worse) . Why ? Well the Sanya crew are at fault for this collision which has materially affected ourselves and the crew of Punta Del Este, and yes there will be redress for Punta and penalties for us but we now have to live with the fact that we has a crew failed to give way for rest of this journey. Some rules are simple in sailing. A boat on port tack , where the wind is coming from the left side of the yacht ,must give way to a yacht on starboard tack. Pretty mich give way to the right. I was in the unfortunate position of being on the bow at the time of the incident. We were just completing a tack and it appeared initially we could pass clear ahead of but our yankee was slow coming in and our speed had dropped. I looked back at the helm to indicate we were now on a collision course but they had noted this and were bearing away to pass behind Punta. And our from initial course it appeared that this is what would occur. In the last seconds it became obvious we were going to collide. The view for me was sickening. Our bowsprit , a 2 metre piece of double metal tubing designed to hold down the spinnaker, speared into the helming cage of Punta and this structure sheared off the deck like it was made of butter. Our bow hit and caused a large hole in their side and our boats were now locked together.Fortunately the bowsprit had not hit any of their crew. I found myself standing on the bow in shock eyes locked with an equally shocked Ryan , the first mate on Punta. There was an eerie silence for a few seconds followed by Ryan our bobstay needed to be cut as it was holding the yachts together. The bobstay is a line from the end of the bowsprit back to a strong point lower on the bow and is there to counteract the upwards force from the spinnaker when set. It was clear I could not reach that from where I was . Ryan went downstairs on Punta to see if he could cut it from below. We then started dropping our headsails as any sailing force was contributing to the boats being locked together.

Following this I went over the pulpit to try and find a way to cut our bobstay but did not realise I had put myself in a rather precarious position. I still could not reach it. I was ushered back in the yacht by some fairly colourful language with the arrival of the Clipper RIB(rigid-hulled inflatable boat). Someone on there was then able to cut through the bobstay near water level. As soon as this was cut our bowsprit bent dramatically upwards from buoyancy forces of Punta and our yachts started to separate.

Image by local Cape Town photographer with me in a rather precarious position.

Now this was not the first incident in this race. A few minutes before another yacht on port tack bearing away to avoid a starboard tack yacht approached us on a head on collision course. In this instance we were the stand on vessel and they were required to give away. We however had to alter course to avoid a collision. One could argue that without that alteration in course we would have been farther up the course and would have passed clear of Punta after our subsequent tack. But the retrospectoscope is a dangerous instrument.

I guess the fortunate thing is there were not any very serious injuries(there were 3 minor injuries aboard Punta and may be some unreported bruises). The crew skipper and first mate of Punta have been absolutely gracious in their response. We did pick a nice place to be stuck for a while . I just have to live with the shame of being on a port tack yacht who despite our efforts in the end failed to give way.

Our bent bowsprit


  1. Tam Hirst says:

    Thanks for the update Rick. We’ve been craving a little more info. Glad everyone is doing well and can get going again soon. Love to Ya’ll!

  2. Carl says:

    What’s the worst that could happen? This is a question that really has no sufficient answer. Suffice it to say that something bad has happened and I believe that clipper has assessed appropriate penalties and redress. I Returned to the docks quite a bit shell- shocked and took many hours to process our crash and the very close call with Unicef on the prior tack. I have communicated my thoughts and fears to Seumas as well as authored a blog post to advance some level of understanding. I am committed to going forward but safety and fair sailing has to be at the core of what we do.

    • Rick says:

      thanks Carl for your comments . We all want to learn from our errors and experiences and we are still in competitive yacht and will still be well in the front half of the leader board with 11 races to go. As for our penalty, which we now know , it was absolutely fair and now personally that has assisted to live with our error and get on with things.

  3. Dorothy Buswell says:

    Rick, I feel your pain and can understand how the sanya crew must all feel about what has happened, and how the Punta crew would be very upset by the collision. Yes,, a very serious mistake was made causing a lot of pain and trauma to both crews but as you said there were no serious injuries and we can all be thankful for that. It’s now time to keep strong and look forward to the next part of the journey on your magnificent clipper …… Love always Mum xxx

  4. Will cowell says:

    Thank you for this riveting account of the incident. I can tell you that being injured and not being able to be on the boat and with the crew is the worst thing.. I am very glad that no one was injured during this accident as that would be even worse if someone had to sit out because of the accident or because of someone else’s action. I was hoping also to see or hear a message of lessons learned from the detailed instructions about the tactical maneuvers on board of the yanking coming around slowly or depowering the main sail for example. In any case I am grateful for your message and look forward to seeing you in Australia. Have a great race to Fremantle, be safe, have fun and go fast!

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