Yacht damaged off of Calif. expected back in race

Published April 4, 2012 6:45AM (EDT)

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Repair work was being done to get a racing yacht battered by a monstrous wave off the Northern California coast over the weekend ready to rejoin an around-the-world race later this month, team officials said Tuesday.

Crews were working on getting the Geraldton Western Australia fixed in time to resume the race from San Francisco Bay on April 14, said Juan Coetzer, skipper of yacht.

The racing yacht and its bruised crew arrived at a California port Tuesday, three days after what team officials described as a 100-foot wave smashed over their 68-foot yacht's stern with such force that it carried away the boat's steering wheel and knocked the crew about like bowling pins.

The yacht was slammed by the giant wave on Saturday about 400 miles west of San Francisco during the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

After the Coast Guard picked up two injured members Sunday, the remaining 11 sailors decided to press on to finish the race's longest leg. They reached the Port of Oakland Tuesday at about 3 a.m., becoming the last of 10 boats to complete a 5,680-mile trek across the Pacific.

A Coast Guard cutter returned to its port in Alameda on Monday afternoon with the two injured crew members.

One of the injured crewmembers, Jane Hitchins, 50, suffered cracked ribs and vertebra in her lower back and a ruptured spleen, team spokeswoman Isabel Hokken said. The injuries to Hitchins were not considered to be life threatening.

Nik Brbora, 29, was discharged from a hospital Monday night after suffering a pelvic strain, Hokken said.

It was unclear if Hitchins, a doctor from Kent, England, or Brbora, a software engineer from London, would rejoin the race when crews set sail for Panama and then New York.

"I think if they could get back on the boat tomorrow, they would," assistant race director Justin Taylor said. "But it's very much up to the doctors whether they're going to get signed off as medically fit to come back."

After the wave hit on Saturday, the crew managed to quickly replace the steering wheel with a tiller and got the yacht under control by pulling down "the remains of our main sail." They also raised a much smaller "storm jib," slowing the boat's progress considerably, Coetzer told race organizers.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent out a long-range HC-130 Hercules aircraft on Saturday for a rescue effort, but the rough seas and strong winds thwarted an attempt to lower rescuers. Instead, medical supplies were dropped on board and a cutter dispatched to meet the stricken vessel.

Two others who suffered minor injuries decided to continue sailing, race spokeswoman Dee-Dee Taft said. Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, also may have suffered broken ribs, and Burkes, 47, the helmsman at the time, sustained a back injury.

The race began in Southampton in England and will finish there July 22 after nearly a year at sea.

The first boat arrived Friday at Jack London Square in Oakland, where the entire fleet is expected to stay for the next 12 days to make repairs, restock, rest and take part in a sailboat show before embarking for Panama.

An upcoming leg — the crossing of the North Atlantic — is typically the hardest of the race, and ocean rescues are not uncommon, Taylor said.


Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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