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Southern Ocean swim

DEC. 8 — Sailing icon Sir Robin Knox-Johnston slipped from third to fourth place this week in the Velux 5 Oceans Race after having to dive into the Southern Ocean to cut fishing net tangled around his keel.

It was while racing through the Roaring Forties, about 600 miles southwest of Cape Town, South Africa, that Knox-Johnston’s boat, SAGA Insurance, became caught in a fishing net, news reports say. The 67-year-old spent nearly six hours hanging over the side with a knife, lashed to sail battens trying to free the debris.

“I spent the night thinking, but knew that there was only one way I could get at the problem and that was by going swimming,” he says in a report.

Knox-Johnston donned his drysuit and a harness, climbed over the transom and slipped into the cold water, reports say. Using a hacksaw, two lines and an empty propane gas container as a float, he cut the netting from the keel. The process took more than 20 minutes.

“By the time I got back to the boat, my hands were very cold and blue but still able to grip fortunately,” Knox-Johnston says in a report. To warm up he says he ate a hot hamburger and beans for breakfast.

New Zealander Graham Dalton, aboard A Southern Man AGD, passed Knox-Johnston for third place overall, the race Web site says. On Monday, Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm took line honors after completing the 12,000-mile first leg of the race — from Bilbao, Spain, to Fremantle, Australia.

Jason Fell