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29 March 2018, 07:06
The Southampton sailor presumed lost at sea was knocked overboard during a yacht race, while tying up a line.
John Fisher, who lived in Adelaide, Australia, plunged into the Southern Ocean, around 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn, during the Volvo Ocean Race on Monday.
Officials of the round-the-world race say the team searched for several hours in high wind and big waves, although deteriorating conditions forced the crew to resume course toward South America.
Fellow crew from Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag said Mr Fisher had unclipped his tether to tidy up a sheet when the boat was caught in an accidental crash gybe - where the mainsail and its supporting boom swing across to the opposite side of the vessel.
According to a timeline of events released by the team, Mr Fisher was hit by the mainsheet system and knocked overboard. The crew believe he was already unconscious from the blow before hitting the water.
The 47-year-old, who was an experienced big boat sailor and was sailing in his first Volvo Ocean Race, was wearing a survival suit with a wetsuit hood and gloves and a lifejacket at the time.
Team manager Tim Newton described it as "the worst situation you can imagine happening to your team". He added:
"We are absolutely heart-broken for John's family and friends. I know for David (Witt, the boat's skipper), he has lost his best friend. It's devastating."
A search and rescue operation was carried out for several hours, but there was no sign of the sailor, and the decision was made to abandon the search as weather conditions deteriorated. The crew are now making their way back to shore.
"This situation isn't over yet for our team," said Mr Newton. "The conditions are extremely challenging, with strong winds and a forecast for a building sea state over the next couple of days.
"Our sole focus, with the assistance of Race Control in Alicante is to get the team into port safely.
"Once we have achieved that, we have time to de-brief more fully and ensure that any lessons that can be learned from what happened to John are incorporated by the rest of the fleet going forward.
"That would be a tremendous legacy for John, who spent so much of his time passing the learnings from his lifetime of experience at sea onto the younger sailors on our team."
Richard Brisius, the President of the Volvo Ocean Race, said in a statement:
'This morning I am extremely sad to inform you that one of our sailors, John Fisher, from Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag, is now presumed to have been lost at sea.
'This is heart-breaking for all of us. As sailors and race organisers losing a crew member at sea is a tragedy we don't ever want to contemplate. We are devastated and our thoughts are with John's family, friends and teammates.
'All of us here at the Volvo Ocean Race organisation send our heartfelt condolences out to John's family, his friends and his teammates and we will do everything in our power to support them in this very difficult time.'
Lee Seng Huang and Sun Hung Kai & Co, owner and sponsor of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said:
'We are devastated by the news involving our crew member, John Fisher, following a man overboard incident early on Monday afternoon UTC.
'Witty and the Scallywag crew have been battling extremely treacherous conditions in the Southern Ocean and this tragedy is heart breaking.
'The crew did everything they could to recover John, leading an extensive search and rescue operation in stormy conditions.
'Over our long passages, I have come to know Fish well. Despite the dangers of the sport he loved his sailing. He is one of our own, a long-standing member of the team. He is a great and experienced sailor, the finest human being and a true Scallywag.
'Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family and the crew at this most difficult time, and we are working with Volvo Ocean Race to provide all the support we can. Our focus now, is getting the boat and crew to a safe harbour.'
(Pictures: Volvo Ocean Race)