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British solo yachtswoman awaits rescue after surviving Southern Ocean storm

The Guardian logo The Guardian 05/12/2018 Steven Morris
Susie Goodall © Getty Images Susie Goodall

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A major rescue operation is under way in the Southern Ocean after a British solo yachtswoman was injured and and her boat “destroyed” in a fierce storm on day 157 of a circumnavigation.

Susie Goodall, the youngest competitor and only woman in the iconic Golden Globe round-the-world race, is at least two days from help after her boat overturned and lost its mast.

Water also filled the hull and Goodall, 29, from Falmouth in Cornwall, initially thought her 11m (35ft) boat, DHL Starlight, had been holed. But she has confirmed the hull is intact, the boat managed to right itself, and she has told race control that she does not need immediate assistance.

However, her position – some 2,000 miles west of Cape Horn – is remote and the nearest vessel that could help is 480 miles – two days – away.

Her plight is made all the more difficult by the nature of the race – a back-to-basics event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s historic first solo non-stop circumnavigation. The 18 skippers taking part in the 2018/19 race are in the sort of boats Knox-Johnston sailed rather than more modern versions and are not allowed up-to-date technology or the benefit of satellite-based navigation aids to sail the 30,000 miles.

Goodall was lying in 4th place at the time, fighting for a podium finish but riding out a ferocious storm with 60-knot winds and massive seas.

In a text message to race control at 8.29am on Wednesday, she reported: “Taking a hammering! Wondering what on Earth I’m doing out here!”

At 11am a distress signal was picked up from her yacht by Falmouth coastguards, who alerted race control and the Chilean maritime search and rescue, which is responsible for the sector of the South Pacific she is in.

At 12.23pm she wrote: “Dismasted, hull okay. No form of jury rig [makeshift repairs], total loss” and gave the co-ordinates for her position.

After three attempts, race HQ was able to raise Goodall on her emergency satellite phone when she confirmed: “I have been dismasted. Thought I had holed the hull because the boat filled with water, but the hull is not holed. The hull is okay. The boat is destroyed. I can’t make up a jury rig. The only thing left is the hull and deck which remain intact.

Susie Goodall © Getty Images Susie Goodall

“We were pitchpoled [rolled end over end] and I was thrown across the cabin and knocked out for a while.”

Race organisers said Goodall was speaking with emotion but appeared in control. She confirmed that she had secured all hatches, portholes and safety equipment, and insisted she did not need immediate assistance.

Goodall also said that before the incident she had been enjoying the tough conditions but her self-steering device malfunctioned and she was forced to trail a sea anchor and take down the mainsail. She was below decks when the boat was pitchpoled.

The skipper said she had been “beaten up and badly bruised’ with cuts and scratches and a big bump on her head.

Race HQ has been working out how to rescue Goodall. The nearest competitor is Estonian Uku Randmaa 400 miles from Goodall and about to face the same storm conditions, so it has been judged impractical for him to try to reach her.

Susie Goodall © Getty Images Susie Goodall

It was decided that American/Hungarian Istvan Kopar, 780 miles to the west of her, could try to intercept Goodall. But Kopar would take six days to reach her.

The Chilean authorities have contacted a ship 480 miles south-west of Goodall’s position and requested assistance. Her captain expects to take two days to get to the area.

Goodall had already been hit by a spectacular storm in the Southern Ocean. Speaking before the current emergency, she said: “That was brutal – it took me a week to recover. The seas were coming from four directions and I kept being knocked down.”

Goodall was introduced to the sport aged three and is an offshore and ocean sailing instructor. Explaining why she wanted to take part in the Golden Globe Race, she said: “When I was little I heard about these people who sailed around the world on their own, for fun, and I knew I wanted to do that one day too. So when I first heard there was going to be a re-run of the Golden Globe Race, my mind was made up and I was going to be on that start line.”

While just off Tasmania she had cleared barnacles clinging to the bottom of her yacht and managed to briefly chat with family and supporters in the UK.

Asked if the ocean was a friend or foe, she replied: “The ocean is a friend who turns on me now and again.”

She said her most useful gadget was a portable cassette player and that she missed fresh food, her iPod and Kindle. Goodall then sailed off, knowing the next storm was waiting for her.

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