A yachtsman who fell overboard in the Southern Ocean during the Volvo Ocean Race around the world is presumed to be dead, lost in a remote stretch of sea in what a race organizer says is “a tragedy we don’t ever want to contemplate.”
John Fisher, a 47-year-old British man, was on watch and wearing survival gear when he fell overboard on the ninth day of the seventh leg of the 7,000-mile journey from Auckland, New Zealand, to Iajai, Brazil. A search was conducted and a ship is en route to the scene but is not expected to arrive until Wednesday, according to an organizer.
“This morning I am extremely sad to inform you that one of our sailors, John Fisher, from Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag, is now presumed to have been lost at sea,” Richard Brisius, the president of the Volvo Ocean Race, said in a statement Tuesday morning.
“This is heartbreaking for all of us. As sailors and race organizers losing a crew member at sea is a tragedy we don’t ever want to contemplate. We are devastated and our thoughts are with John’s family, friends and teammates.”
Fisher, who was competing in the 45,000-mile race for the first time, fell from the 65-foot yacht about 1,400 nautical miles west of Cape Horn. Only two days earlier, the yacht had passed Point Nemo, which Yachting World describes as “a theoretical point in the South Pacific which is the most geographically remote place on the planet.”
Brisius said organizers “coordinated with the team” aboard the Scallywag “as well as the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.”
He added that the rest of the competitors in the race were about 200 miles downwind and would have faced winds of gale-to-storm force in deteriorating weather had they gone to assist in the search.
“The Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag team conducted an exhaustive search for several hours in extremely challenging weather, but they were unable to recover their teammate,” Brisius said. “Given the cold water temperature and the extreme sea state, along with the time that has now passed since he went overboard, we must now presume that John has been lost at sea.”
The rest of the fleet is continuing the race, and the Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag team is continuing to sail northeast toward landfall, but Brisius described a crew that is “of course, emotionally and physically drained.”
Organizers plan to debrief the team and address questions “about how one of our sailors was lost overboard,” he said.
Fisher had sailed with Scallywag skipper David Witt for years on the Ragamuffin and Scallywag super maxis and had lived in Southampton; more recently, he was based in Adelaide, Australia. The team’s website describes him as having “plenty of big boat experience” and said he is a veteran of the Sydney-Hobart, one of the world’s most difficult offshore races.
“Over our long passages, I have come to know Fish well,” Lee Seng Huang, owner of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said on Facebook. “Despite the dangers of the sport, he loved sailing. He is one of our own, a long-standing member of the team. He is a great and experienced sailor, the finest human being and a true Scallywag.”
On leg four of the race in January, Scallywag rookie Alex Gough fell overboard into the Pacific Ocean and Volvo Ocean Race organizers shared video of the dramatic rescue, saying that Gough was pulled aboard in less than 15 minutes.