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A tragic loss in the Clipper race

As friends, family and sailors in the Clipper Round the World Race mourned her loss, Clipper founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston promised a full investigation into the death of IchorCoal crewmember Sarah Young, who was swept overboard shortly before midnight April 1 in heavy seas and 35- to 40-knot winds as a localized low enveloped the 12-boat fleet in the north Pacific.

Sarah Young was swept overboard from IchorCoal on April 1. It is the second loss of life for this boat and this Clipper race.

Racing from Qingdao, China, to Seattle with 3,242 miles to go, Young, 40, an experienced sailor from London and IchorCoal’s quartermaster, “was tidying the cockpit after reefing the mainsail in 35 to 40 knots of wind when she was knocked from her position by a wave. She fell back toward the guard wire and was swept under it by another wave,” said race officials in a statement.

Young was not tethered to the yacht when she went overboard. Her crewmates on the Clipper 70 IchorCoal immediately executed their man overboard drill, but wind, seas and loss of visual contact with Young hindered the search, according to the boat’s skipper, Darren Ladd. Her body was recovered 1 hour, 17 minutes later with the help of the man-overboard beacon she was wearing. Efforts to resuscitate her failed.

Knox-Johnston says the investigation will be undertaken with British authorities, likely the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch. He told the BCC the inquiry will look into why Young wasn’t tethered to the yacht. “The only person who can tell us why she wasn’t tethered is Sarah herself, and of course, she never will,” he told the BBC. “We just don’t know. We are all frustrated she wasn’t tethered on — terribly sad we’ve lost her, obviously, but just frustrated. … Clipping on takes about three seconds, and it’s cost her her life.”

Young, owner of Bespoke Establishments, a company that provides luxury personal services, was an active and adventurous woman who mountaineered in Nepal; led cycling expeditions in northern Borneo, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia; ran marathons; led dive expeditions — and sailed. Except for a short time when she returned home to see her mother, who was in failing health, she had been sailing on IchorCoal since the race’s start in August 2015 in London and had completed half of its 40,000 miles.

Young was buried at sea April 3 with the agreement of family, medical advisers and the Maritime Coastguard Agency because it would have taken too long to reach land and inter her.

The Clipper race has an exemplary safety record. More than 4,000 amateur sailors have participated in the race over the past 20 years. Until this edition, there had been no fatalities, and now there have been two — both on IchorCoal.

Andrew Ashman — a 49-year-old paramedic from Kent, England, who had sailed since he was a teen — was knocked unconscious by the mainsheet and possibly the boom off Portugal on Sept. 5, just a week into the first leg of the 14-leg race around the world. He never regained consciousness and died two days later on the yacht. The nighttime accident occurred as Ashman helped reef the mainsail in a wind burst.

Andrew Taylor, now 48, a London sporting events caterer, nearly died in the 2013-14 Clipper race on the same north Pacific leg that took Young’s life when a wave dumped him overboard. He was not tethered to the yacht, either, but he went overboard during the day and was wearing a dry suit, which afforded him some protection from the 52-degree water. He was in the water for 1 hour and 40 minutes before the crew of his boat, Derry Londonderry Doire, retrieved him because he didn’t properly activate his man-overboard beacon. He credits his rescue to the life jacket and dry suit he was wearing, and to finally figuring out how to turn on the beacon.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue.