Australian yacht reaches California after "monster wave"

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2012 1:23 AM
Australian yacht reaches California after "monster wave"

By Emmett Berg

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An Australian racing yacht stricken by a 100-foot (30-meter) wave plodded into San Francisco Bay for repairs on Tuesday, two days after the U.S. Coast Guard rescued two injured crew members.

The 11 remaining crew members of the Geraldton Western Australia arrived in the port of Oakland, the mid-point of a round-the-globe sailing contest, after 30 days in the North Pacific, much of it in harsh weather.

Some gave vivid accounts of their brush with maritime catastrophe.

"I was down below, when the last monster wave hit us," crew member Ian Geraghty recalled. "Water was just pouring down and everyone was in a complete state of shock."

The Geraldton is one of 10 clipper-style vessels that set sail on July 31, 2011, from Southampton, England, on a 40,000-mile voyage due to conclude back in Britain in July.

The race already has taken the competing boats to ports in Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and China.

Nearly a month after leaving Qingdao, China, the Geraldton ran into trouble about 400 miles off California on Saturday, when the impact of a monster wave severed the yacht's primary steering control and destroyed communications equipment.

Four crew members were hurt and the U.S. Coast Guard battled seas of 20 to 30 feet feet to get the two more seriously injured mariners to a hospital ashore.

Briton Jane Hitchins, 50, herself a doctor, remained hospitalized on Tuesday with several cracked ribs and vertebra in her lower back, as well as a ruptured spleen, race organizers said. They said she was in good spirits and was expected to make a full recovery.

Crew mate Nik Brbora, 29, a Croatian native who now lives in England, was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday after treatment for a sprained pelvis.

A third crew member Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, visited the hospital on Tuesday to be examined for what he suspected were broken ribs.

The crew managed to restore steering control with a hand-operated tiller and returned to port in Oakland under a mix of sail and engine power. The boat was greeted in the darkness early Tuesday with cheers from an assembled crowd.

Repair work is underway to enable the Geraldton to join the next stage of the race on April 14, when the yachts set sail for Panama.