Kiwi hit hard by tragic death of British sailor
Daryl Wislang reveals the loss of John Fisher made it ‘the toughest leg I’ve raced’, reports Duncan Johnstone.
NEWZealand round the world race veteran Daryl Wislang can’t remember a tougher leg than the one the fleet endured across the Southern Ocean where a British sailor lost his life.
Wislang returns to Brazil from a brief break in New Zealand with mixed emotions as the Volvo Ocean Race resumes next weekend.
There’s joy at his Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team grabbing a slender lead as the business end of the race gets under way. But his heart is still heavy over the death of John Fisher, who was lost overboard from Hong Kong boat Scallywag in treacherous conditions as the boats raced from New Zealand towards Cape Horn and on up to Itajai in Brazil.
Wislang, a father of two, is in his fourth round the world epic, having won the 2014-15 edition aboard Aby Dhabi Racing. His blue water racing extends beyond this odyssey but he has never experienced the emotions of the past few weeks.
‘‘It’s the toughest leg I’ve raced for sure ... more so mentally than physically,’’ Wislang said of the effect that Fisher’s disappearance had on him, his fellow crew and the entire fleet.
‘‘It’s a terrible tragedy and obviously you feel deeply saddened by the news ... for John’s family and also how it affects you, especially having a family of your own.
‘‘That makes it pretty hard, it’s very close to home.’’
Wislang, a watch captain, said the tragedy had an impact on performance as they raced on realising what had unfolded behind them.
‘‘It was a difficult time just after the news came through,’’ he said of balancing risk and reward on the slick boats that were repeatedly hit by weather fronts.
‘‘It’s a big responsibility of the watch captain and skipper (Charles Caudrellier) to manage the boat and the crew in a seaman- like way so everyone is safe and the boat is safe. You may not think it affects you but deep down it really does. It makes you think about what you are doing. Instead of thinking twice about something you are probably thinking three or four times about doing something.
‘‘It is an extra large caution for eveyone.’’
Wislang was trying to put some perspective on things when he added: ‘‘Everyone knows the risks that we take when we go out there and do it. It’s remarkably more safe than walking down the street ... you’re more likely to get hit by a car than die on the ocean doing what we do.’’
Wislang applauded the decision by Scallywag to continue in the race. They landed in Chile, retiring from the leg, and a replacement crew took the boat on to Brazil. But they will be involved in the final four legs, determined to race on in Fisher’s memory. ‘‘I don’t think there are any words that can tell how they were feeling. They had to work through their emotions as a team and as a group and staying together is a big part of that,’’ Wislang said.
‘‘We discussed it on our boat and that was the general feeling – if it was to happen to one of us, that we would want the crew to carry on if they could.
‘‘But it was all about if they could. You can never say you will carry on, you have to assess the mental state of the crew to carry on, because if it’s not there it becomes even more dangerous to carry on.’’
The Southern Ocean took its toll on boats as well with Vestas 11th Hour Racing demasted and also retiring from the leg. Spanish entry Mapfre, who had been leading the race with Kiwi Blair Tuke on board, also had mast and sail issues that saw them limp into Itajai in last place on the leg and surrendering their overall lead to Wislang’s Dongfeng. VOLVO OCEAN RACE
‘‘We have a one-point lead, that’s better than five points behind as we were. Four legs left and there’s going to be a full dogfight from here I think,’’ Wislang said with the next leg taking the fleet to Newport on the east coast of the United States.
Wislang said there was an element of managing the boat acoss the Southern Ocean. It was a strategy that worked for him last time with his major opponent demasting and handing him a lead in Brazil that eventually saw them win the race.
‘‘We were pushing the boat but at the same time just maintaining the risk level,’’ he said of the last leg. ‘‘We had a lot to lose and we didn’t want to have a big problem. It was about getting the boat to Cape Horn in one piece and then putting the throttle down from there.
‘‘It proved a big difference last time.
‘‘The big leg is the one we have just had and making sure you don’t have a ‘a major’ was the goal from day one for us. Being in the hunt in Brazil was one of the main goals for our team.
‘‘We have achieved that, now we have to make the most of it.’’
‘ It’s a terrible tragedy and obviously you feel deeply saddened by the news.’ DARYL WISLANG
Daryl Wisland works the mainsheet on board Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team during the Volvo Ocean Race.