UPDATE: The Golden Globe Race confirms that as of UTC 15:14, December 7, 2018, that Susie Goodall is on the MV Tian Fu.
British sailor Susie Goodall sighted her rescue ship at about 12:00 UTC on Friday, December 7, 2018. The injured sailor is trying to get off her dismasted 36-foot sailboat DHL Starlight. Big challenges remain for the injured sailor to get aboard the massive ship in what will likely be the riskiest rescue by a Golden Globe Race sailor yet. Yes, the 159-day-old race has had three previous rescues. This latest one for the lone woman and youngest participant in the solo-nonstop, around the world race has the least chance of success going into its final hours.
The Golden Globe Race (GGR) is a retro, solo, non-stop race around the world for small sailboats. Only five of the original eighteen participants are still planning to complete the 30,000 nautical mile race. Two boats have rounded Cape Horn and are sailing up the Atlantic to the finish in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. Three others are over 1,000 miles from Cape Horn in the Pacific. Susie Goodall’s yacht is the fifth to be dismasted in the Southern Ocean.
The rescue ship is the Tian Fu, a 190-meter long ship. The ship’s master has confirmed to the GGR that no man over board boat is available. (They have a RIB, but don’t want to attempt it in these conditions of 4-meter waves.) The current plan is for the Chinese ship’s crew to use the crane to lift Goodall from the high sided ship. Susie will have to find a way to get to the ship. Unfortunately, her engine started and died in the big seas. Small sailboat engines usually suffer from fuel system problems in big seas in my experience. Moreover, they lack the power to move against the wind and seas in anything over force 5 conditions. Thus, the massive cargo ship is the more maneuverable craft at the moment.
Ship rescues are often dramatic and frequently go badly. The size and poor maneuverability of giant ships mean that the stricken yachts are sunk while trying to save their crew. Rescued sailors can be bruised from the ships sides or be thrown into the water. 4-meter waves are forecasted for this rescue. That makes getting close to the ship much more dangerous. No prior GGR rescue was directly from such a large ship.
The other three rescues went smoothly, but none were from a high sided ship. The sea state for the other three rescues were in much smaller waves. The other rescues used smaller boats, RIBs or rigid inflatable boats, to transport the sailors onto the rescue ship. In addition, aerial support helped the prior rescue ship teams hone in on the four other dismasted Golden Globe Race sailors. No air support has been provided in this case.
Goodall has been suffering from a concussion and bruises from her DHL Starlight’s pitchpoling prior to its dismasting in a Southern Ocean storm. Since that accident 2,000 nautical miles west northwest of Cape Horn in the Pacific Ocean she has struggled to keep down water and has not eaten. She has vomited many times since the dismasting. She was healthy enough to cut away the mast over the last two days. Rigging in the water has been known to sink vessels if not cut away.
The current plan is to use the ships crane with a line. Goodall’s job would be to grasp the whipping line in 4-meter seas and clip in. Then she would be hoisted by one of the ship’s huge cranes. She has her life jacket with harness and a climbing harness to clip into the line. She also plans to have two ditch bags tied to a separate line. The line attached to the crane itself is a hazard. If all goes well Goodall will be on a pendulum. A worse outcome would be that she would be knocked off the line or swing into the steel ship. Sailors have died before attempting to be rescued by massive ships.
While the Indian and Australian Navies were eager to help in prior rescues in the Indian Ocean, the British sailor Susie Goodall, who is arguably the most popular of the racers, has not got the slightest attention from any Navy, including the United Kingdom. She has relied on the Chilean rescue coordinators and the duty of massive commercial ships. That lack of interest by the navies of the world may reduce her chances of success.
Another problem is that this rescue attempt could sink Goodall’s yacht preventing more suitable rescue craft such as Hungarian born American sailor Istavan Kopar’s 35-foot yacht from rescuing Goodall. There are no easy answers. Goodall’s charging capacity is gone, and her satellite phones and rescue devices are losing their batteries. Kopar’s sailboat Puffin is still days away. By that time, it may be much harder to track Goodall.
Goodall’s inability to hold down food or liquids could be life threatening if she waits for another boat. Death from dehydration can happen in as little as three days. Moreover, it is uncertain how much water she still has onboard after the pitchpoling which destroyed her emergency water stores.
Dr. Linus Wilson is the creator of the Slow Boat Sailing YouTube Channel and Podcast which have covered many sailing disasters and rescues. He holds a USCG, “six-pack” captain’s license, OUPV-Near Coastal. He has written three books about sailing including How to Sail Around the World Part-Time. He can be reached at linuswilson [at] outlook <dot> com.