Sailing: Golding in trouble after dramatic dawn rescue

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The Independent Online

After executing a dawn rescue which took four attempts to pluck British solo sailor Alex Thomson to safety aboard his yacht, Mike Golding's 60ft Ecover yesterday was itself dismasted. After abandoning to a watery grave Thomson's 60ft Hugo Boss, the cruel blow of fate left both having to clear up the mess from a double mast break and set off, under jury rig, for Cape Town, 1,000 miles away.

The drama began for the 32-year-old Thomson nearly 24 hours earlier when he had been woken by a violent lurch caused by the malfunction of his keel. He was south east of South Africa, the Roaring Forties winds were blowing at up to 30 knots, and the southern ocean rollers were threatening to capsize the yacht.

It was flattened and Thomson had to work fast in the icy conditions to pull down all the sails and then breathe a small sigh of relief as the yacht righted itself.

He had been racing neck and neck with Golding on the first leg of the Velux 5 Oceans round the world race from Bilbao to Fremantle, Golding just ahead of him in second place. By the time Thomson realised he could not continue, Golding was 80 miles ahead, but immediately responded to the emergency when notified by race director David Adams. He turned his yacht around and had to battle all the way back upwind, making visual contact with the yacht on Thursday night. But it was decided to wait until first light to try to transfer Thomson across.

That was done as Thomson put on warm clothes under a survival suit, grabbed emergency beacons, flares, radio, food and water and launched his liferaft. He then cut himself adrift, Golding managed to give him a line and winched himself alongside.

It took just under two hours, four attempts to clamber aboard, and a cut hand in the process. Golding described the procedure as "very scary at times".

Thomson said: "This has been, without doubt, the most terrifying and emotional experience of my life. This yacht has been my life for three years. It's wrong to leave her down here and I would have done anything to save her. But I really had no other choice. It was really distressing to look back and see Hugo Boss in such a sorry state.

"I am hugely grateful to Mike for turning back to rescue me and relieved to be in the warmth and safety of Ecover's cabin." As he also remembered ruefully that he had to retire to Cape Town from about the same place in the Vendée Globe race three years ago, that comfort was to last only six hours.

Golding had earlier said: "There was no delay because that was how I would expect someone to respond if I was in a problem." He added: "It was pretty terrifying because I was doing about 25 knots in some really big seas."

A long way behind, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said: "Well done, Mike. A nice and tidy professional operation. There is no higher praise." Now, the tortoise should pass the two hares.