Golden Globe Race: Tapio Lehtinen safe and sound

Les Sables d’Olonne: A successful rescue operation for Tapio Lehtinen took place in the Southern Indian Ocean, with Kirsten Neuschäfer the first to reach his position and take him to safety aboard her racing yacht, Minnehaha, before transferring him onto the bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri.

Fellow Golden Globe Race (GGR) entrant, Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF), reached Tapio’s position this morning at 0510 UTC. The South African sailor whisked the GGR veteran and Finnish sailing legend, Tapio Lehtinen, from his life raft where he had been since Friday 0700 UTC.

Three boats had been diverted yesterday to assist Tapio after he activated his Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) at 0654. He then activated his Life raft Personal Locator Beacon at 0854 UTC following the sinking of his yacht Asteria.

Abhilash Tomy (IND) aboard Bayanat, 170 nautical miles south-west of Tapio’s last known position, was the first to receive the message sent through the YB3 device and divert his route.

Lehtinen reported Asteria had flooded from the stern – Etienne Messikommer pic

MRCC Cape Town confirmed communication with Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra on board the bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri bound to Singapore. It was 250nm north-west of Tapio’s position, diverting course at 12.5 knots and rendering assistance, with an ETA between 0830 and 1000 UTC on November 19.

Later in the day, Kirsten Neuschäfer aboard Minnehaha, who was the closest to Tapio at 105 miles, contacted the GGR Crisis Team after receiving the message on her YB3. In accordance with the Race Office, she broke the seal of the emergency GPS and diverted course towards Tapio’s position.

Abhilash Tomy was then released from the rescue to resume racing. As a fellow competitor in the GGR 2018 and friend of Tapio, he kept sailing close when released and asked to be updated on any progress.

The GGR crisis team kept contact with the MRCC Cape Town coordinating the rescue, as well as the bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri, Kirsten Neuschäfer and Tapio.

Kirsten was regularly updated by the Race Office on weather information, as well as Tapio’s position and drift, in order to maximise routing for the fastest route to him. Meanwhile, Tapio was updated on Kirsten’s progress and ETA.

Lehtinen was taken aboard bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri – Tony Singh pic

He showed good spirit throughout the night: “You can’t get any closer to the ocean, I love it but this is close enough. Thanks for looking after of me. More romantic tweets from the life raft here.”

Posting speeds above 7 knots, Kirsten was the first on site at 0510 UTC. Conditions at the time were 20 knots of south/south-east wind, 2 to 3 metre swell and daylight. It was not an easy task, however.

Tapio had an early visual on Kirsten’s yacht but she could not see the life raft in the swell. Kirsten would hear him on the VHF, but Tapio could not hear her voice. The GGR Crisis Management Team homed her onto Tapio’s position until they were close enough to see and hear each other to plan for recovery.

Kirsten called the GGR Management team at 0805 UTC to confirm that she had retrieved Tapio from the life raft onto Minnehaha with a retrieving line. After sharing a good glass of rum, Tapio returned to the raft and Kirsten pulled it towards the bulk carrier, which he successfully boarded via a rescue ladder.

“I’m full of adrenaline now. I’ve been up helming all night. It’s quite something to be manoeuvring so close to a ship, but we’re all good. Tapio was on board my boat, we drank a rum together and then we sent him on his merry way. (…) No congratulations needed for the rescue, everyone would do the same for another sailor, thank you guys for coordinating it. “ Kirsten Neuschafer

M.V. Darya Gayatri, contacted by MRRC Cape Town, later confirmed that Tapio has been on board since 0755 UTC and that they were retrieving the abandoned life raft. The vessel is bound for Rizhao, China where they will drop Tapio off. MRCC Cape Town is contacting the Finnish Embassy to coordinate his arrival together with the GGR Race Control.

“Bravo to all involved with the successful rescue of Tapio. It was a huge effort. It was comforting to feel the support from the GGR family around the world,´ Don McIntyre, GGR Founder, said.

“It’s good to experience the professionalism and dedication of MRCC South Africa, as well as Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra and the crew of the M.V. Darya Gayatri, who are upholding the greatest traditions of the sea by assisting a fellow mariner in distress.

“Thanks Abhilash for diverting and staying close by. Kirsten, your ocean experience and human spirit sets you apart. Your efforts have written another chapter in life and a special bond with our dear Tapio! Welcome back Tapio…your family is waiting.”

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