East coast yachtsman Wilf Tolhurst was killed today when two British yachts collided in 20-knot north-easterly winds and confused seas on the opening day of the Regates Royales in the Bay of Cannes today.
Tolhurst, 64, with his son as one of the other seven crew, was at the helm of his 8-Metre Safir and said to be trying to avoid a right of way boat, British America's Cup boss and Admiral's Cup team captain Graham Walker's 1916-built 65-foot Nathaniel Herreshoff-designed Rowdy. At 35 tons, Rowdy would be over twice the weight of Safir.
The 8-Metre was dismasted and Walker's bowsprit, which was locked between Safir's mast and its forestay, was snapped. Making the announcement, Jean-Claude Montesinos, president of the Yacht Club de Cannes, said that, although Tolhurst was lifted off and rushed to hospital, he was thought to have died instantly, hit by the mast and boom as it crashed down.
He added that the Tolhurst family had said that they wished the regatta, which finishes on Saturday, to continue. It was the first death in a regatta celebrating its 30th anniversary. All the rest of the 168-boat fleet will carry black tomorrow.
Walker managed to save his boat as the stricken Safir was then blown on to the rocks.
Another yacht to be dismasted was the Italian Ea as the top of its new mast gave way when beating upwind. No-one was injured.
The regatta is run in parallel with the annual gathering of the Societe Nautique de Geneve, the club which is the holder, courtesy of Ernesto Bertarelli's triumphs in Alinghi, of the America's Cup. Under the rules of the America's Cup any challenging club must show that it organises an annual regatta on the sea or an arm of the sea. Geneva does not meet that requirement.
And it is host to the Dragon class at the last of its 2008 European circuit. There are 79 in Cannes with British hopes carried by another east coast-based yachtsman, the Dane Poul-Richard Hoj-Jensen.