Cape Town - A sailor has died, several more have been injured and at least two vessels are returning home after the Cape2Rio fleet hit a violent storm during its first night at sea.
The 35-strong fleet set sail at 2pm on Saturday, but were lashed by winds of up to 50 knots and 5m seas as night set in.
Bille, a 54-foot Angolan entrant, suffered a broken mast. Four crew members were injured and one Antonio Bartolomew, later died.
Sources said the yacht was “unsailable” and commercial shipping vessels in the area – around 75 nautical miles off the West Coast – were attempting to assist.
The SA Navy was also on standby, as were rescue choppers, which were currently inoperable due to the inclement weather.
Others in the fleet also suffered drama, with at least two more returning to shore.
Race chairman Ray Matthews reported: “All yachts reported bumpy conditions on Saturday night, with swells of 4m to 5m sometimes breaking at top and wind speed up to 50 knots.
“Black Cat has reported a problem with its rudder and is proceeding back to Cape Town. One crew has a sprained ankle, but all are well.”
Black Cat is co-skippered by acclaimed yacht designer Dudley Dix, formerly of Hout Bay but now living with his family in Virginia on the East Coast of the US.
The yacht Peekay reported sail problems and was on Sunday proceeding to Saldanha Bay, although its crew were “all well”.
Explora had reported its engine flooded – “but all well and will attend to the problem in calmer conditions”.
The yacht Isla had reported both engines inoperable, but its generator was working.
“The only yacht we have not had communication with is Avocet and we are working on the problem,” Matthews said.
When the fleet set sail on Saturday, the sails of three yachts stood out as they deployed their “bags” – sailing slang for the spinnaker.
On Sunday afternoon, the trio had already covered almost 300 nautical miles (around 480km).
Craig Sutherland skippers Explora, sponsored by DStv’s SuperSport, with a crew of seven chief executives who own the sleek 60-footer together, and at 1.28pm on Sunday had 3 140 nautical miles to go until Rio – at times hitting speeds of more than 20 knots.
Neck and neck with them was Robert Date with his Australian crew aboard Scarlet Runner. They were not far off on the water near Explora.
But out in front was the yacht bearing the name of one of the world’s most potent sports car marques, Maserati, skippered by the Italian Giovanni Soldini, who was a little ahead mid-on Sunday.