But suffers injury

Minoru Saito, that legendary 75 year-old Japanese sailor on his eighth circumnavigation has just rounded Cape Horn – for the fifth time – but his glee has been tempered by a storm which has disabled his yacht and driven him back to Punta Arenas under tow.

Saito-san had had trouble with two of the battens of his mainsail, but, little daunted, had rounded Cape Horn against the wind, using only headsails. He intended to wait until calmer weather to repair the battens. Bad luck was to court his movements in the days to come. He suffered a fall which damaged his ear. At this time he started to realise that his radar was not working properly, as a mystery ship appeared in the night, but not on his radar, and three islands were visible, but not showing on radar.

As the days went by, and the conditions deteriorated, more damage was done to the yacht. Owing to a low some 250nm south, the winds went up to 45 knots and the seas to 10 metres. His autopilot had become erratic. One morning daylight showed that his sideband radio antenna had disappeared in the night, and the six man survival raft had become dislodged from its position.

Conditions were too bad for him to go forward to make repairs to the raft connection. He decided to lie ahull and wait for the bad conditions to pass, as it was impossible to make way, especially without a mainsail in the conditions, and he was afraid of doing more damage to the yacht.

Then the finaly piece of bad luck – Saito-san lost the use of his rudder, and the yacht was disabled and drifting helplessly. His support team contacted the Chilean Navy, who sent a Chilean factory boat, the only boat they considered able to make way in the conditions, which were still seas of 8.5 metres. By the time the fishing boat reached him, Saito-san had drifted for 20 hours in 45knot winds and the 8-10 metre seas. Asked about the sea conditions prior to the rescue, he said that he’d never before experienced waves of 9.5 meters ‘even in the biggest typhoon’ he has been through.

He sounded more in awe than unnerved by the ordeal. He was also complimentary of the help he had received from the Chilean Navy and the factory ship they dispatched to help him. The seas were at 6 metres and winds in the 30s at the time so towing the 50,000-lb., 56-foot vessel must have been quite a challenge. Back in Punta Arenas, the factory ship is now requesting payment for the tow, and Minoru Saito, after some sorely needed sleep, will set about repairing his yacht for the voyage ahead.

More here