California dismasted in the stormy Pacific Ocean

California, one of 10 entries competing in the Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, has been dismasted in a storm which hit the fleet as they raced across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. All the crew are reported to be safe and four of California’s competitors, along with a merchant vessel in the vicinity, have diverted to rendezvous with US entry and offer assistance if required.

At around 16:00 GMT on Sunday 21 March, Falmouth coastguard contacted Clipper Race office to advise that California’s EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) had been activated. The race team made immediate attempts to contact the boat through all the options open to them, but were unsuccessful. The on board tracking system indicated that the yacht had spent a couple of hours of very slow progress before picking up speed and then travelling at an average of seven knots towards San Francisco.

The knowledge that the area in which the yacht was sailing had been hit by a significant storm with winds in excess of 50 knots and associated heavy seas made it essential to establish why the EPIRB had been activated. Falmouth Coastguard handed over the incident to the US Coastguard who promptly sent a C130 aircraft towards the transmitting emergency beacon.

The crew of the aircraft successfully located the yacht and communicated with skipper Pete Rollason. The aircraft also made contact with fellow race entry, Jamaica Lightning Bolt, whose skipper, Pete Stirling, was able to relay the first brief detail back to the Clipper Race office.

The skipper explained how the yacht had come to lose her mast and reported that at 15.45 GMT on Sunday 21 March, the 68-foot racing boat was hit beam on by a very large sea coming from the port side. The impact caused the boat to roll to starboard through approximately 120 degrees and as the yacht righted herself (as she is designed to do), the mast was broken in two places.

With storm force winds blowing in excess of 50 knots, California was sailing under a very conservative sail plan with just the storm jib hoisted. During the roll, a large amount of water came through the main hatch and flooded the navigation station, cutting off the boat’s communication systems. The EPIRB ensured that the relevant authorities would be quickly aware and that the incident could be communicated.

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