A British sailor who died after being swept overboard was a popular and sensible man, said Clipper Round The World Yacht Race co-founder Portsmouth’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.
Simon Speirs, from Bristol, was taking part in the 11th edition of the Gosport-based biennial event as it crossed from South Africa to Australia during leg three of the race.
The 60-year-old retired solicitor was racing on board the Great Britain yacht, and had been on the foredeck of the 70ft vessel to help change a sail, when the incident happened.
Describing Mr Speirs as a ‘popular chap’ who was ‘very sensible’, he said the sailor who had more than 40 years’ dinghy experience was washed off the deck in gale force winds.
Mr Speirs then became separated from the boat which was in the Southern Ocean, in what were rough seas with 20 knots of wind and gusts at 40.
‘It is absolutely tragic to lose someone like this,’ Sir Robin told the Press Association.
‘He was clipped on with the safety tether, he had done additional training, he was an experienced sailor and he was one of the safety committee on the boat,’ he said.
Pressed on what that might mean for the rest of the race, he said the tether in question needs to be examined by the Clipper team and safety professionals.
Once it has been looked at, Sir Robin said in conjunction with specialists, a judgment and joint-decision will then be made on how to proceed.
He said a full independent investigation alongside the Marine Accident Investigation Bureau is being undertaken, which is a normal process following such incidents.
‘The tether was state-of-the-art - it was new for this race, it is top of the range, it has got type approval by everyone,’ Sir Robin added.
‘All we know is that he was tethered on and that something has gone wrong. Whether it is a type failure or a one-off failure - we won’t know that until it has been examined.’
The competitors still racing have since been instructed to use both clips on their tethers as an extra precaution until it can be established what has happened.
Sir Robin said the crew and the medical team on board did everything they could to save him, and revealed his heart dropped when he received the call to say a sailor had gone overboard.
‘We train hard to get people back if they go over, and indeed they did a brilliant job - getting him back in 36 minutes, which in those conditions is very, very good indeed,’ he added.
‘It shows the training really did cut in properly and the crew did a very good job.
‘There were three medics on board, a surgeon, a doctor and a paramedic - really that boat was strong from a medical standpoint.
‘They all worked for nearly an hour to resuscitate him, but he never regained consciousness. If it was possible to bring him around, that was the team to do it.
‘They seemed to have handled it incredibly well. There was a very good ethos of safety on that boat - it was a safe boat.’
Mr Speirs, who at the time was clipped on, was wearing a lifejacket packed with an AIS (automatic identification system) beacon and approved waterproof ocean oilskins, was given a Christian burial at sea on Sunday.
Sir Robin said his and the thoughts of all the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race team are with Mr Speirs’ family and his crew who have had a ‘very tough thing to get through’.
‘I just feel for his family. Here he was fulfilling his dream and then it has turned into a nightmare for them,’ he added.
The death of Mr Speirs is the third in the 21-year history of the Clipper race.
During the last Clipper race, Andrew Ashman, 49, from Kent, suffered a fatal neck injury in September 2015 during that edition’s first leg. His death was the first in the race’s history.
It was followed in April last year by the death of Sarah Young, 40, from London, who was un-tethered and washed off the deck of the IchorCoal during the Pacific leg of the race.
Sir Robin said earlier this year that both deaths were tragic, unnecessary and upsetting for everyone, and that safety was emphasised continuously throughout training and during the race.