Despite an extensive search for John Fisher in worsening conditions, Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag have now made the difficult decision to head towards South America

John Fisher, a crew member on the Volvo Ocean Race entry Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, was reported as a man overboard yesterday afternoon, Monday 26 March, approximately 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn.

Team Scallywag was some 200 miles north-west of the remainder of the fleet at the time and conducted a lengthy search but was unable to find him.

Some ten hours after the MOB was first reported, and with conditions forecast to worsen, organisers reported that the race team on the Volvo 65 had made the heart-breaking decision to call off their search and head towards South America. Conditions at the time were 35 knot winds, with accompanying sea state and the water temperature was -9°.

This morning Richard Brisius, the President of the Volvo Ocean Race, issued the following statement:

‘I am extremely sad to inform you that one of our sailors, John Fisher, from Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag, is now presumed to have been lost at sea.

‘This is heart-breaking for all of us. As sailors and race organisers losing a crew member at sea is a tragedy we don’t ever want to contemplate. We are devastated and our thoughts are with John’s family, friends and teammates.

‘Yesterday, just after 1300 UTC, Race Control for the Volvo Ocean Race were informed of a man overboard situation by Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag.

‘We immediately coordinated with the team as well as the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, who have located a ship and diverted it towards the scene. But at current speeds it remains over a day away.

‘With the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet approximately 200 miles downwind, sending them back upwind to assist, against gale to storm force winds, was not a viable option.

‘The Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag team conducted an exhaustive search for several hours in extremely challenging weather conditions, but they were unable to recover their teammate.

‘Given the cold water temperature and the extreme sea state, along with the time that has now passed since he went overboard, we must now presume that John has been lost at sea.

‘All of us here at the Volvo Ocean Race organisation send our heartfelt condolences out to John’s family, his friends and his teammates and we will do everything in our power to support them in this very difficult time.’

‘Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag has now resumed heading in a north-easterly direction. In fact, the team is currently in a challenging position – the weather is deteriorating and is forecast to be quite severe over the course of today.

‘The crew is, of course, emotionally and physically drained after what they have just experienced. Our sole focus now is to provide all the support and assistance that we can to the team.

‘We are sure that there will be many questions about how one of our sailors was lost overboard yesterday. We can address those after the team has been fully debriefed.

‘Today, our thoughts and prayers go out to John’s family and the entire Scallywag team.’

In an earlier statement, race organisers confirmed that ‘Fisher, was on watch and wearing appropriate survival gear when he went overboard. The remaining crew are reported safe.’

Lee Seng Huang and Sun Hung Kai & Co, the owner and sponsor of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, also issued a statement:

‘We are devastated by the news involving our crew member, John Fisher, following a man overboard incident early on Monday afternoon UTC.

‘Witty and the Scallywag crew have been battling extremely treacherous conditions in the Southern Ocean and this tragedy is heart breaking.

‘The crew did everything they could to recover John, leading an extensive search and rescue operation in stormy conditions. Now, with the forecast worsening and night falling, the team has made the difficult decision to head for landfall, 1,200 nautical miles away in South America.

‘Over our long passages, I have come to know Fish well. Despite the dangers of the sport he loved his sailing. He is one of our own, a long-standing member of the team. He is a great and experienced sailor, the finest human being and a true Scallywag.

‘Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family and the crew at this most difficult time, and we are working with Volvo Ocean Race to provide all the support we can. Our focus now, is getting the boat and crew to a safe harbour.’

John Fisher, 48, sailed with skipper David Witt for many years on the Ragamuffin and Scallywag super maxis. A veteran of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, he was the appointed safety officer on board the Scallywag VO65. He lived for many years on England’s south coast, and more recently was based in Adelaide, Australia.

The remainder of the fleet is continuing racing. In an earlier statement reporting the incident, Volvo Ocean Race organisers explained: ‘Given the gale force conditions it is not an option to divert any of the other six Volvo Ocean Race competitors, who are at least 200 miles further east and downwind of SHK/Scallywag, to assist in the search operation.’

The Volvo Ocean Race teams were on Day 9 of Leg 7, a 7,000-mile race from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajaí, Brazil. Just two days previously they had passed ‘Point Nemo’, a theoretical point in the South Pacific which is the most geographically remote place on the planet.

Our thoughts are with John Fisher’s family and friends, Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, and the Volvo Ocean Race sailors.

Reporting by Helen Fretter