The UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its findings into two fatal accidents aboard the Clipper Race yacht CV21, IchorCoal, during the 2015/2016 Clipper Round the World Race
The death of Sarah Young
Sarah Young, aged 40, was unresponsive when recovered after falling overboard on 1 April 2016.
Young was part of the 15 crew of the yacht CV21, IchorCoal, doing the full circumnavigation. Although not a sailor before the race she had by this time sailed between 20,000 and 25,000 miles.
She was physically fit and an adventurer: she was as dive master and a strong swimmer, had been a trek leader with Raleigh International and was a marathon runner. She was noted as ‘very safety conscious’.
On that date they were sailing on leg 6 of the race between Qingdao in China to Seattle.
This leg of the race had previously seen rough weather the MAIB report notes that the race Sailing Instructions included a stipulation that yachts stay below a latitude of 45°N until past a longitude of 150°W to reduce exposure to bad weather.
The yacht was racing under full mainsail, staysail and No 2 yankee and at around 2100, shortly after a watch changeover, the wind backed and began to increase.
The report goes on to say:
‘It quickly became apparent that the sailplan needed to be reduced. At approximately 2223, the watch leader, following the skipper’s agreement, started organising his watch to reef the mainsail. The assistant watch leader, who was down below repairing the toaster, was called up on deck to help. He donned his lifejacket but not his foul weather gear. The wind was over 40 knots and gusting over 60 knots.
‘The skipper, who was below at the navigation station, sensed that the situation was deteriorating, and the watch leader, who was now on the helm, accepted the skipper’s offer of help. The skipper dressed in his foul weather gear and went up on deck, taking over the starboard wheel from the watch leader. The watch leader then proceeded to the mast to assist with reefing the mainsail.
‘Given the wind strength it was decided to take in two reefs with the yacht heading in a west-north-westerly direction. Sarah Young was working at the mast with the watch leader, both attached to the yacht by their tethers.
‘After approximately 20-30 minutes, the reefing of the mainsail was complete and attention turned to lowering the yankee 2 headsail….’
It was wet and cold work, and the report notes that: ‘the assistant watch leader had gone below to warm up, having become wet during the reefing process. The crew on deck tidied the lines and started to prepare for lowering the headsail. Sarah was asked to go below to wake two of the port watch to help as there were insufficient crew in the starboard watch to lower the headsail in the prevailing conditions.’
As Sarah Young came back on deck, she climbed back up the companionway steps and into the cockpit and ‘without first clipping on her tether, she assisted another crew member in reattaching a winch handle pocket.’
As she did so, a wave broke over the boat at the same time the yacht heeled further to starboard and Sarah Young lost her footing and fell over and down the deck, ending up next to the starboard guardrail with a winch handle in her hand.
The watch leader, the report states, was sitting at that side and tried to grab her, but before he could another wave washed her down the starboard side and overboard.