2022 GGR / FINNISH SAILOR RESCUED FOLLOWING MISHAP IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

Finnish sailor, Tapio Lehtinen (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tapio Lehtinen Sailing and is being used here for representation purpose, No copyright infringement intended)

The 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR) saw a rescue operation at sea get underway over November 18-19.

Finnish sailor Tapio Lehtinen was the participant rescued; the location was in the southern Indian Ocean. Tapio’s vessel – the Asteria – flooded suddenly and sank. He had to shift to his life raft.

According to the first report of November 18 (available on GGR’s website), Tapio communicated distress at 0645 UTC that morning following which, the race organizers started coordinating with French and South African authorities. “ At 0852 UTC, Tapio also activated his life raft’s PLB indicating that he may have abandoned ship. The life raft also has a VHF radio and GPS packed inside. MRCC Cape Town contacted nearby commercial vessels to divert to his position, with the closest ship 250 miles away,’’ the report said. PLB stands for Personal Locator Beacon.

The GGR entrants nearest to Tapio were India’s Abhilash Tomy (sailing in the Bayanat) and South Africa’s Kirsten Neuschafer (sailing in the Minnehaha). They were 170 miles and 105 miles south-southwest of Tapio, respectively. Both sailors were informed of Tapio’s location. Abhilash, who was the first to receive the message diverted his course accordingly. Tapio’s communication indicated that he was “ able” and had the emergency grab bag containing food, water, and critical equipment with him. The report said, Tapio informed GGR officials that his yacht had flooded from the stern with water up to deck level in five minutes. He was in his survival suit and had boarded the life raft but with no glasses was struggling to write or read text messages.

Same day, with Kirsten successfully contacted and she being the participant closest to Tapio’s position, Abhilash was released from the rescue effort. However, he continued to sail close by and asked to be updated on the progress of the rescue operation. Meanwhile, South African authorities established communication with Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra of the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier MV Darya Gayatri, to divert and render help. The ship was 250 nautical miles northwest of Tapio’s location.

As per the second report of November 19, Kirsten reached Tapio’s location at 0510 UTC that morning and picked up the Finnish sailor from his life raft. “ Tapio had an early visual on Kirsten’s yacht, but she could not see the life raft in the swell. Kirsten would hear him on the VHF but Tapio could not hear her voice. The GGR Crisis Management Team homed her onto Tapio’s position until they were close enough to see and hear each other to plan for recovery. Kirsten called the GGR Management team at 0805 UTC to confirm that she had retrieved Tapio from the life raft onto Minnehaha with a retrieving line,’’ the report said.

According to it, Tapio has since been shifted to the bulk carrier MV Darya Gayatri. As explained in the report of November 19: “ Kirsten called the GGR Management team at 0805 UTC to confirm that she had retrieved Tapio from the life raft onto Minnehaha with a retrieving line. After sharing a good glass of rum, they then proceeded to put Tapio back in the raft, pulled it towards the carrier, which he then successfully boarded via a rescue ladder.’’

GGR involves a circumnavigation of the planet. The 2022 edition of the race started from France on September 4.

Back in 2018, during the last edition of GGR, Tapio had been among the finishers. This time however, his race has ended in the southern Indian Ocean. As of November 20, GGR’s website said on Tapio’s page (every skipper has a write-up introducing him / her), of the incident causing his exit from the 2022 race, “ Asteria sank in 5 minutes with a strong unidentified water intake from astern. ‘’ A Facebook post by Tapio’s team (its English translation has been made available on the GGR Facebook page) said that the Finnish sailor woke up at around 8.30 AM on Friday (November 18) to a loud bang. At that point, the water was knee-deep in the boat’s saloon. More water flooded the engine compartment at the rear. The situation was dire. “ The most critical moment was when the pull knot of the life raft came loose. Fortunately, the weather was almost calm. I took a long leap into the water, grabbed the board and jumped in,’’ the post quoted Tapio as saying. He watched his yacht slowly sink, “ At the last moment, I stood up shakily in the life raft and put my hand in the cap as a last salute to my friend,’’ he said.

In the 2018 GGR, Abhilash Tomy had suffered accident and injury in the southern Indian Ocean following which, he was rescued in an operation involving Indian, Australian, and French authorities.

As of November 20, 2022, GGR’s live tracker showed Simon Curwen of the UK in the lead. He was followed by Abhilash in second place and Kirsten in third.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)