Health concerns have led to Weymouth Olympian Annie Lush being pulled off the crew of a Volvo Ocean Race yacht taking part in an around-the-world competition.
Lush, who represented Great Britain in the Elliott six-metre women’s match racing event at London 2012, was injured during the third leg of the Volvo from Cape Town to Melbourne.
She was on board Team Brunel with New Zealand team-mate Peter Burling, grinding on the aft pedestal as the 65ft yacht prepared to gybe close to the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone, when a huge wave swept them both into the guard rail at the back of the boat.
Burling, the 26-year-old America’s Cup-winning helmsman, was unhurt but Lush was left with pain down her right side and, initially, was struggling to move her right leg.
The crew responded immediately, carrying her down below and into her bunk. The 37-year-old from Poole was prescribed painkillers and plenty of rest by on-call race doctor ‘Spike’ Briggs, leaving the team shorthanded for the rest of the leg.
“Even though the ice gate was coming up it didn’t matter – we would have got a penalty but safety comes first,” said the yacht’s 54-year-old Dutch skipper Bouwe Bekking at the time.
“Annie will be confined to her bunk for another 24 hours and, hopefully, she’ll be okay. She’s a tough cookie.”
Lush, a former Cambridge University ‘Blue’ in sailing, rowing and rugby did, in fact, resume light duties and was hopeful of setting sail with the yacht again on Tuesday, on the next stage of the voyage to Hong Kong.
“I’m finally out of my bunk after 72 hours,” she said. “I can move around, and it feels amazing.”
But something still wasn’t quite right and when the yacht docked in Melbourne, Lush, who sailed with Somerset’s Mary Rook when winning the 2010 World Match Race Championships, spent Christmas Day in hospital.
Doctors discovered she had broken two bones in her foot and one in her back. An operation was deemed unnecessary at that stage but more rest was ordered, and that left Bekking, facing a month at sea before reaching Hong Kong, with no option but to enforce a change.
“That we have had to replace Annie after her injury is now obvious,” he conceded.
Lush’s replacement on the yacht will be the American, Sally Barkow, the skipper she defeated in that 2010 USA match-race final and also her team-mate in the previous edition of the Volvo, on board the all-female Team SCA.
The crew of Team Brunel, currently lying fourth overall in the seven-boat fleet, includes Abby Ehler (nee Seager), who was born in Plymouth 42 years ago.
Other crew changes are expected to be announced over the weekend with teams required to submit lists 48 hours ahead of Tuesday’s start.
Former South Devon-based yachtsman Brian Thompson, 55, is expected to join Dee Caffari’s yacht, Turn The Tide On Plastic.
Caffari, 44, who cut her teeth with Sir Chay Blyth’s Devonport-based Challenge Business in the 1990s, also has 26-year-old Henry Bomby, from Kingswear, near Dartmouth, in her squad.
Since 1973, the Volvo Ocean Race has kept an almost mythical hold over some of the greatest sailors, and this latest edition will take the teams 45,000 nautical miles around the world, across four oceans, touching six continents and docking in 12 landmark host cities.
Remarkably, there is no prize money for the winners, but seeing their name etched into one of the silver rings of the Volvo Ocean Race Trophy is considered a prize beyond compare for sailors who grew up with dreams of emulating the past legends of the race – heroic figures like Peter Blake, Eric Tabarly, Conny van Rietschoten, Grant Dalton, Paul Cayard and Ian Walker, who all dedicated their professional lives to chasing victory.
The race started in Alicante in October and will conclude in The Hague in June.