Kirsten Neuschäfer has rescued fellow Golden Globe Race skipper Tapio Lehtinen after Lehtinen’s boat sank and he spent over 24 hours adrift in the southern Indian Ocean.
Golden Globe skipper Tapio Lehtinen has been rescued by fellow solo competitor Kirsten Neuschäfer after Lehtinen’s boat sank and he spent over 24 hours adrift in the southern Indian Ocean.
Lehtinen and Neuschäfer were both racing in the ‘retro’ single-handed non-stop around the world Golden Globe Race, in 3rd and 4th place respectively.
At 0800 this morning, race HQ confirmed that Neuschäfer had successfully rescued Lehtinen from his life raft, and “after a glass of rum, transferred him aboard the Bulk Carrier DARYA GAYATRI.”
Golden Globe rescue
Yesterday, at 0654 (UTC), Lehtinen manually activated his Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) while some 450 miles south east of Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
At 0922 UTC Lehtinen activated the emergency YB3 satellite tracking and texting device which is part of the grab bag, and at 1002 UTC manually acknowledged the message sent by the GGR Crisis Team.
In communication with organisers via the YB3, he reported that his Gaia 36 Asteria had rapidly sank, stern first, and that he was in the liferaft, and was wearing a survival suit.
At 1105 he messaged: “I GAVE ASTERIA A LAST SALUTE STANDING IN THE RAFT AS SHE WENT DOWN”
Weather conditions at the time were 15-20 knot winds with 3-4m waves.
Initial reports from the Golden Globe race organisers made clear the enormity of the rescue, and also explaining that without his usual glasses, the 64-year-old Finnish sailor was struggling to read and send messages.
Race organisers also raised the alarm with fellow competitors. Initially 2nd-placed sailor Abhilash Tomy, who was himself rescued mid-ocean during the 2018 race, turned back towards Lehtinen’s position. Tomy was approx 170 miles south-west of Asteria’s last known position. Third-placed Kirsten Neuschafer was closer, around 105 miles south-west of Lehtinen’s last known position, but race HQ could not initially make contact with the solo skipper.
MRCC Cape Town also established communication with the bulk carrier DARYA GAYATRI which diverted to assist. The vessel was 250 nm NW from Lehtinen’s position and had an initial ETA of today (November 19) at 1200 UTC.
Later yesterday morning, Golden Globe Race HQ made contact with Neuschäfer, who diverted her yacht Minnehaha to Lehtinen, while Tomy was stood down and resumed racing.
24 hours in a liferaft
Remarkably, Lehtinen then proceeded to send live updates from the liferaft (reported via the Golden Globe Race news feed) as he waited 24 hours for rescue.
At 2:47 PM he sent: “BACK2FAM&YEAM,I,(JNGOODHANDS,RGDS2K,WLDHAVE PRFRRDMINNEHAHA))
[Interpretation: Love Back to Family & Team, I’m in good hands, regards to Kirsten, Would have preferred Minnehaha]
At 4:24 PM he messaged: “ADMIRIMG SUMSET&BIRDS”
At 6:12 PM he attempted to get some rest, messaging: “:HITTING THERMAL SACK,IT,S A LUXURY RAFT 4 1 ERSON:)
That was shortly followed at 6:44 PM by “2ALBATROSSES KISSING IN THE LEE OF THE RAFT!”
Early this morning (02:00hrs) he reported: “A PIECEFUL NIGHT UNDER THE STARS, HAVE SLEPT LIKE IN CRADLE”
03:13 ”YOU CAN:T GET MUCH CLOSER 2 THE OCEAN, I LOVE IT, BUT THIS IS C”
03:18 ”CLOSR ENOUGH, THMX 4 LOOKING AFTER ME”
He continued updating on the wildlife he saw, writing at 04:17 “A JUVBMILE WANDERING A CAME2AAY HI,A CPL STEPS&FLAPS&OFF HE WENT GLIDIN, THEIR FLIGHT IS ADDICTIVLY SEAUTIFULL SSE F4. CUMULUS”
Then, at 05:09, came the messages he had made contact with Neuschäfer: ”JST SPOKE W HER”.
05:22 “I D HER”
At 0639 Neuschäfer confirmed that she had spoken to Lehtinen via VHF, and was on a direct course to the liferaft’s position. Conditions were fair, F4 SSE and 3m waves.
An hour and a half later, race HQ confirmed that Neuschäfer had successfully rescued Lehtinen from his life raft, and “after a glass of rum, transferred him aboard the Bulk Carrier DARYA GAYATRI.”
Lehtinen was reported to be well, and ‘on good form’. In a statement, organisers said: “GGR wishes to thank the MRCC Cape Town, Capt. Naveen Kumar Mehrotra and the crew of the DARYA GAYATRI for the exemplary coordination of Tapio’s rescue.”
Both Lehtinen and Neuschäfer are exceptionally experienced sailors. Lehtinen was the only skipper returning to compete in the second running of the ‘retro’ Golden Globe Race in the same boat that he sailed in 2018.
Asteria was the oldest boat in the fleet, but lovingly restored and highly reliable. The Gaia 36 is an S&S design from 1965 which Lehtinen successfully completed the circumnavigation in in 2018/19, finishing 5th, despite massive barnacle growth that slowed his boat to a crawl.
The boat had been extensively refit before the 2018 race especially for the demands of the non-stop round the world course, including laminated kevlar panels for impact protection.
Besides three watertight bulkheads and foam buoyancy in the bow, Lehtinen added an additional pair of watertight bulkheads aft, which were not specified in the safety requirements of the race rules but he built in for added security. The first was just forward of the rudder tube, the second a few feet further forward. All through-hull fittings were position between the two to try and eliminate the risk of a failed skin fitting flooding the boat.
Lehtinen also narrowed the original cockpit well of Asteria, so it snugly fit the liferaft, and lessened the volume of water that the cockpit would be flooded by in waves.
See our sister title Yachting Monthly’s tour of the boat
Lehtinen’s extensive experience includes competing in the 1981/82 Whitbread Round the World Race, the Azores and Back Race (AZAB), and other offshores. He has also been preparing a crewed entry in the Ocean Globe Race, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Neuschafer is a South African sailor who has sailed extensively in high latitudes, including the Antarctic Peninsula with Skip Novak’s Pelagic Expeditions. She is among the Golden Globe Race skippers with the most Southern Ocean experience.
Her Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha is one of the fastest boats in the fleet, and was thoroughly refit in Newfoundland in 2020/21. Pre-start, Neuschafer then sailed Minnehaha solo from Newfoundland to South Africa, then up to France, giving her invaluable sea miles to test reliability.
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