Eight Bells: John Fisher

An­other sailor is lost in the Volvo Ocean Race

SAIL - - Racing Under Sail - By Adam Cort

“This is the worst sit­u­a­tion you can imag­ine hap­pen­ing to your team,” said Sun Hung Kai/Scal­ly­wag team man­ager Tim Newton late last March, and he wasn’t ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Mere hours ear­lier, he’d been in­formed by skip­per David Witt that crew­man John Fisher of Southamp­ton, Eng­land, had been lost over­board about 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn as the boat was bat­tling through the South­ern Ocean as part of Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the sun was just com­ing up fol­low­ing a stormy night. Ap­par­ently, Fisher had tem­po­rar­ily un­clipped his har­ness to help tidy up the rig­ging for­ward, when the boat un­ex­pect­edly gybed and the main­sheet swept him over­board.

The crew im­me­di­ately stopped rac­ing and did its best to mo­tor back to where Fisher was lost. Un­for­tu­nately, they were never able to find any sign of ei­ther the two re­cure buoys they’d de­ployed or Fisher, and with the con­di­tions rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, they had no choice but to con­tinue on to Chile. It is be­lieved Fisher was also knocked un­con­scious when he was swept over­board.

Af­ter­ward, Newton said that his team would do ev­ery­thing it could to en­sure any les­sons that can be learned from what hap­pened to John are in­cor­po­rated by the rest of the fleet go­ing for­ward, adding: “That would be a tremen­dous legacy for John.”

How­ever, while it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­thing that can be done is done to en­sure the safety of the sailors in the VOR—and with all due re­spect to Newton—John Fisher’s “legacy” hardly needs any fur­ther bur­nish­ing.

For the rest of us, the ex­treme na­ture of the VOR is all part of the fun. How­ever, for the com­peti­tors, it’s also deadly se­ri­ous, and they know full well what they’re get­ting them­selves into be­fore they cast off. Fisher is not the first com­peti­tor to have lost his life in the course of a VOR or its pre­de­ces­sor, the Whit­bread. In fact, he is the sixth.

Which is not to say the Volvo Ocean Race is some kind of death cult. Just the op­po­site. With its chal­lenges, it team­work, it phys­i­cal hard­ships and, yes, even its dan­ger, it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of life at its very best—not just for those tak­ing part, but also for those of us priv­i­leged enough to look on and watch what these sailor are up to with noth­ing less than awe. There’s no need to some­how jus­tify Fisher’s end, no mat­ter how tragic. His own ac­tions speak louder than words.

Bot­tom line: while any­thing “pos­i­tive” that can be gained from Fisher’s pass­ing should be ap­plauded, it’s not re­ally nec­es­sary. At the end of the day, he was a brave sailor and by all ac­counts a fine ship­mate, do­ing what he loved best and com­pet­ing at the ab­so­lutely high­est lev­els of the game: a game that is among the no­blest en­deav­ors ever de­vised by man. Not to min­i­mize the sad­ness of his loss or in any way triv­i­al­ize the pain be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by his friends and fam­ily, but what bet­ter legacy could any­one hope for than that?

For more the lat­est on the VOR, which con­cludes this month in the Nether­lands, visit sail­magazine.com/rac­ing/volvo-ocean-race.

Sailor John Fisher

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