Clipper Race founder tells of frustration as tragic sailor not tethered to yacht


The founder of the Clipper Race has said he is "frustrated" that a sailor killed when she was swept into the sea was not tethered to her yacht, adding "it's cost her her life". 

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston insisted that safety was "drummed into" sailors during intense training before they took part in the round-the-world yacht challenge.

He said everyone involved in the race was in "shock" following the death of Sarah Young, from London, who was washed overboard in the Pacific while sailing from China to Seattle on board the yacht IchorCoal.

It was "standard procedure" for the crew to be clipped on to the yacht, he said, adding it was the first time in the race's history a sailor had died after going overboard.

"Sarah was a very intelligent lady, she had done all the training, sailed 25,000 miles at this point and she knew the rules," Sir Robin said.

"But we do not know the exact circumstances and it could have been in a split second that she was not clipped on that the wave hit.

"Unfortunately that split second is all it takes. It is very frustrating, this need not have happened. It is very sad that in a single moment this has cost Sarah her life. It is just tragic."

Speaking to the BBC earlier, Sir Robin said: "The only person who can tell us why she wasn't tethered is Sarah herself and of course she never will.

"We just don't know. We are all frustrated she wasn't tethered on - terribly sad we've lost her obviously, but just frustrated. Just not clipping on, takes about three seconds and it's cost her her life."

Sir Robin said it took the crew around an hour to find Ms Young in the dark after she was "flung" through the guard rail by the second of two large waves.

He told the broadcaster: "And so then you've got the problem of trying to find her - of course it's night-time, 6ft waves, strong winds - not the easiest of tasks.

"And it took them about an hour to get back to her and I regret to say that by the time they did she was dead."

Her death was only the second in the race's 20-year history. Tragically the other sailor to die, fellow Briton Andrew Ashman, was a crew member on board the same boat in the same edition of the biennial race. 

Despite being amateurs, both were experienced sailors and Sir Robin, who in 1969 became the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world, said that safety was paramount during their training.

Ms Young was one of the sailors taking part in the entire round-the-world challenge and had already sailed more than halfway round the world and covered 20,000 nautical miles before setting off for the latest leg of the race on March 21.

She had pulled out of part of the challenge trip after her mother died, organisers said.

Sir Robin described her as a "very popular member of the crew, a very easy person to like".

Race organisers worked "very closely" with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Royal Yachting Association on safety standards, he said.

"There is compulsory four weeks training and if you talk to any of the crew they will tell how we just keep hammering into them 'wear your life jacket and clip on'. Safety, safety, safety," Sir Robin added.

"The crew all practice man overboard procedures and recoveries, which is why we have not had this before because we have always recovered people."

The rest of the IchorCoal crew will now continue on their journey to Seattle, and Sir Robin said the voyage would help them deal with their loss together.

He said: "By continuing, it gives them a focus and they are carrying on with the rest of the fleet which is also very important.

"There is an essence of safety in that and they will feel more secure knowing the other teams are nearby and they are quite close together in the middle of this huge ocean.

"The crew also have friends on the other boats and, for many, the people they will most want to share it with are there now."