As gale force headwinds hamper Global Challenge yacht, a helicopter evacuation of ill crewman is being discussed

A helicopter airlift of an ill crewmember on Global Challenge yacht Imagine It Done is being discussed to speed up vital medical treatment. John Masters, 59, is suffering from a serious abdominal infection. He is said to be stable but in discomfort and is being treated on board with intravenous fluid and antibiotics after a transfer yesterday of extra medical supplies from Save the Children.

Skipper Dee Caffari and her crew have ceased racing and have been motorsailing for Chatham Island, approximately 600 miles away, but as they encounter forecast gale force north-westerlies today they will be hard on the wind and able to make best speed only under sail. With these conditions expected to last for several days, Imagine It Done is four or four-and-a-half days’ sail from Chatham Island and currently well beyond helicopter range. However, an airlift may be possible later this week.

“There is a local hospital in the main port of Waitangi, but [John Masters] will probably need an operation and there aren’t adequate facilities there, so he will be airlifted to Wellington,” explains Andrew Roberts, project director of Challenge Business. The New Zealand Coastguard is co-ordinating the air evacuation, he adds.

“A helicopter will be sent from Wellington to Chatham Island and it could refuel and do an airlift at sea within a 200-mile radius if conditions allow and if the need exists. Right now it looks like it probably will be needed.”

Masters’s infection is not contagious and is believed to have begun when he sustained an internal injury after being thrown from the companionway on to a bunk tube. He is being treated by crewmember David Roche, a general practitioner.

Meanwhile, Save the Children has resumed racing from the point at which they diverted to help Imagine It Done. Under the race rules, her crew is entitled to redress for going to the aid of another competitor, and skipper Paul Kelly is expected to put a case to the race committee when he reaches Wellington. This, in turn, would be presented to the international jury, which would rule on a time allowance based on the conditions Save the Children might have expected had they carried on.

Dee Caffari and her crew have had to retire from racing. “In theory, they could later go back to the point where they stopped racing,” explains Andrew Roberts, “but they don’t appear to want to restart.”

In a report today, Caffari writes frankly of the disappointment of all on board:

‘It is gutting to know we cannot complete this leg, and I know I have many disappointed crew onboard. Ultimately, people’s welfare is of paramount importance but everyone has a little selfish side and I am deeply disappointed at being unable to complete the leg. Trust me, to need the medevac at the most remote part of the leg was not in my planning!

‘I can honestly say that I am on an emotional rollercoaster at the moment: doing the right thing; making sure that the patient is OK and thinking of the safety of the crew; but also regarding stopping racing and therefore not completing leg two. It is really difficult to rationalise all sides to the scenario in your head at the same time.

‘Still, nothing a Steinlager won’t fix.’