Sailing: Fastnet shows its dangers

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The Independent Online
A LUCKY escape from drowning for the crewman, Kazuhiko Sofuku, on the Japanese yacht, Nippon, provided a stark reminder yesterday of the ever- present dangers of the Fastnet Race.

Less dramatic was the dismasting of Australia's 45-footer Great News II, though it was a severe blow to their attack on the slender lead held by Italy in the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup. The Irish 50-footer Jameson 3 also motored back to Plymouth after breaking the mainsail boom.

At the head of the fleet of 247 which left Cowes last Saturday at the start of the 605-mile ocean classic were three Whitbread 60s. First, by 28 minutes, was Spain's Galicia '93 Pescanova.

Second was Brad Butterworth, skippering Dennis Conner's Winston and just 25 seconds ahead of Roger Nilson in the pan-European Intrum Justitia.

Trailing badly was Lawrie Smith, in the Spanish maxi Fortuna, more than four hours behind the top 60s.

Grant Dalton reported last night that he had been averaging a phenomenal 19 knots for three hours in NZ Endeavour. The battle at the head of the CMAC fleet was between Australia's Ragamuffin, less than a minute ahead of Britain's Indulgence with France's Corum Saphir third, but on handicap Indulgence was leading.

The rescue of Sofuku was remarkable and carried out in lumpy, bumpy seas, at night in the fog and the cold. The bowman was washed overboard about 50 miles north-west of Land's End having gone forward for a sail change. He was not attached by a lifeline but had a torch.

The mainsail was dropped, the position logged by satellite signal, the engine started and the search begun. But, in removing heavy oilskins to prevent them from dragging him under, Sofuku lost the torch.

As the helmsman Andrew Hurst widened the search to take account of the man being blown downwind, the crewman Chris Mason launched parachute flares to illuminate the area. After several minutes in the sea Sofuku's voice was heard calling for help.

The yacht was driven close enough to extend a long pole, which was grabbed by Sofuku, who was dragged aboard shivering, exhausted and in shock.

Hurst, and his co-skipper John Cutler, decided to retire to Plymouth. Sofuku was said to be recovering well.

Hurst said: 'We were very pleased to see him, especially as we had lost sight of him, the seas were broken, and there was fog.

'He coped with it very well, kept his head and did not panic. He has gone to hospital for a precautionary check.'

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