HENRY Bomby admitted to mixed emotions after he finally rounded Cape Horn following one of the most relentless Southern Ocean legs in the history of the Volvo race.
The 26-year-old Devon sailor and his colleagues on board the yacht, Turn The Tide On Plastic, have endured a miserable week.
News that a member of the Volvo family had been lost overboard on the 7,000-mile leg from Auckland to the Brazilian port of Itajai was compounded by rig damage overnight Friday, caused by the continuous cold, wet and windy conditions of the ‘Furious Fifties’ that only eased when they passed the Horn.
All the crew are safe but have eased off the throttle to assess the damage to the spreaders on the mast.
It was on the run to the Horn that Southampton-raised John Fisher was knocked overboard from the deck of Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag; he had unclipped his tether for a matter of a minute or so to tidy up a line when tragedy struck.
An extensive search was carried out for several hours but neither the crew nor a commercial ship called to assist could find any trace of the 47-year-old, who had lived in South Australia for a number of years.
Eventually, race officials conceded Mr Fisher would not have survived the cold water temperature and extreme sea state and presumed he had been lost at sea.
The crew on board the Hong Kong-flagged yacht, seeking some comfort in the fact that their friend was knocked unconscious by the mainsheet system before entering the water, have since suspended racing and are expected to reach landfall in Chile this weekend.
Bomby, from Kingswear, near Dartmouth, was as shocked and saddened as the rest of the crews on the seven identical 65-ft racing yachts.
On rounding the Horn, he reported: “What a place. A childhood dream come true… but we’re rounding with a heavy heart. The Southern Seas took a real gent from us this week.”
Bomby’s skipper is 44-year-old Dee Caffari, who worked with Sir Chay Blyth’s Plymouth-based Challenge Business in the 1990s. Now, having taken a crew of novices across two Southern Ocean legs, she confessed: “It’s a bit like a proud mum moment. This has been the furthest south most of the crew have ever been. I’ve got six people who had never been in the Southern Ocean before this race who are about to round Cape Horn, which not many people get to do.
“But the tragic news we’ve had this week… it’s made us all realise how vulnerable we are down here; how hostile the environment is down here; how quickly things can go bad, and how we’ve all lost a friend.
“Many tears were shed both openly and privately. ‘Fish’ was a friend, a fan and a true supporter of our project.
“So we’re saying that this rounding is definitely for ‘Fish’.”
There was further drama ahead when the Spanish boat leading the race, MAPFRE, made an emergency pit stop off Cape Horn to make repairs to a torn mainsail and Vestas 11th Hour Racing was dismasted.
The crew, who are all safe, was forced to cut away the broken mast to avoid damage to the hull and are now heading for the Falklands to assess the situation.
MAPFRE’s damaged mast track and boom have since been repaired but the decision cost the crew nearly 13 hours. They have now resumed sailing towards Brazil.
It means that of the seven yachts that left new Zealand, four have been grievously hurt by the Southern Ocean ogre.