Skipper in worldwide yacht race airlifted to hospital after thumb 'flopping off'

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A skipper leading a crew of amateur sailors in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race had to be airlifted to hospital after his thumb was nearly ripped off.

David Hartshorn was conducting a spinnaker drop with his crew, around 450 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal, when the guard rail became caught between his thumb and the sheet.

The incident which happened on board the 70ft Greenings yacht, left the 52-year-old with a partially detached thumb and a serious open fracture - requiring urgent medical attention.

Mr Hartshorn said the guard rail on the yacht acted like a "cheese wire" as the spinnaker reinflated in the wind after it had collapsed, and pulled his digit along the metal safety rail.

"The moment it happened, I knew that I had done something and I knew that something wasn't quite right," he told the Press Association of the incident on Saturday.

On looking down at his hand immediately afterwards, he said he could see his bone sticking out and his thumb "flopping off to one side".

Pressed on how he felt looking at his hand, he said: "I did 30 years as a police officer, I have seen a lot worse... it just so happened to be on me this time."

With specifically qualified coxswain Jeremy Hilton charged with taking over control of the yacht, a process which happens in situations where the skipper is incapacitated, Mr Hartshorn was taken below deck.

He said crew member Miles Berry, who is a surgeon by trade, acted as the lead medic and - along with Jemma Cowley and Lucas Sebastian Canga Ivica - meticulously cleaned his wound, administering antibiotics and pain relief.

Just days after the race had started, it was then arranged for the injured skipper to be medevaced from the yacht - which took place from the water instead of the deck.

The Greenings yacht (Tim Goode/PA)
The Greenings yacht (Tim Goode/PA)

"That was a very surreal moment to actually step off the boat and watch it disappear and just hope that the helicopter would actually pick me up," he said laughing.

Once airlifted to Hospital de São Sebastião he underwent three hours of surgery on Sunday night, seeing his thumb wired back into place.

The Welsh skipper who lives in Ripley, Surrey, said he would like to get back on the boat in Freemantle, Australia, so he can complete the rest of the race. But with another operation yet to take place, this is dependent on the speed of his recovery.

After the evacuation the Greenings crew headed to Porto in Portugal where deputy race director and former Clipper skipper, Dan Smith, took over the boat.

UPDATE: @greeningsvoyage resumed racing to Punta del Este, Uruguay, late last night after brief diversion to Porto https://t.co/WsMOET1eqApic.twitter.com/UujHxFvJoN

-- The Clipper Race (@ClipperRace) August 30, 2017

Mr Hartshorn, who waved his team off as they re-joined the race on Tuesday, said he knows the crew will benefit from the experience of Mr Smith who came second in the last race edition.

He said: "I'm gutted not to be with them now but I'll be back as soon as I can."

The Clipper fleet is currently racing through the Atlantic and is expected to arrive in Punta del Este, Uruguay, between September 20 to 25. In what is the eleventh edition of the biennial race, it will visit cities across the world including South Africa's Cape Town, Sanya in China and New York.

Following their departure from Liverpool's Albert Dock on August 20, the fleet raced by 713 amateur sailors over 40,000 nautical miles, will return to the city on July 28, 2018.