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Solo Sailors Join Forces

When a solo sailor in the Singlehanded Transpacific Race realized he wasn’t merely sick, but dying, the Coast Guard and a merchant ship immediately effected a rescue.

When a solo sailor in the Singlehanded Transpacific Race realized he wasn’t merely sick, but dying, the Coast Guard and a merchant ship immediately effected a rescue. When it became clear that his boat—which also was his floating home—could be saved as well, it was his fellow competitors’ turn.

Early in the crossing from San Francisco Bay to Hawaii’s Hanalei Bay, Derk Wolmuth knew he had a problem, which he correctly diagnosed as a staph infection. He had no antibiotics aboard (“my biggest mistake”), so he carried on, taking what care he could and hoping for the best.

Some 400 miles short of Hawaii, though, he realized the infection was taking a turn, and that he had little strength, or time, to sound an alarm. Receiving no response on the radio, he activated his EPIRB, leading to a transfer to a container ship, where he was treated until he could be hospitalized ashore.

After that, with Wolmuth’s 32-foot Bela Bartok still making way toward the islands, drawn by a jib, guided by a windvane and marked by Yellowbrick Tracking, there was a gathering “under the tree”—which is where everything happens at the end of this race. The meeting can fairly be described as a competition to get to help, and the winners were Ronnie Simpson and Rubin Gabriel, who had raced each other for 2,300 miles, finishing 1-5 in class, both in Moore 24s.

Still singing the praises of the U.S. Coast Guard, Simpson and Gabriel recall boarding a fast fishing boat to rendezvous with Bela Bartok. According to Gabriel, “It felt like a military mission.” For Simpson, an Iraq vet, “It was awesome to be teamed up again with the guy I sailed the Doublehanded Farallones with, and won.”

Look for Wolmuth to be sailing again soon. 

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