GOSPORT, England – British solo sailor Alex Thomson was rescued Friday from his crippled yacht on the icy Southern Ocean by another competitor who turned back in heavy waves and wind.
Race organizers said it took four tries and nearly two hours for Thomson to make it from the stricken Hugo Boss to Golding's boat in a liferaft because of waves and 25 mph winds.
"This has been without doubt the most terrifying and emotional experience of my life," Thomson said in a statement from organizers of the Velux 5 Oceans solo around-the-world race.
Golding, aboard Ecover, spent the night within sight of Thomson's boat, and described the rescue as "very scary at times."
Thomson, dressed in a survival suit, had to get into his liferaft and allow it to drift away from his damaged vessel before Golding could approach and pick him up.
"I am hugely grateful to Mike for turning back to rescue me. The operation was fairly hairy and the sea was lumpy which wasn't very pleasant for either myself or Mike," Thomson said. "At one point I caught my hand between the life raft and Ecover and it wasn't until this point — when I cut my hand — that I thought to myself: 'This is actually quite scary.'"
The two are now headed toward finish of the race's first leg, in Fremantle, Australia. The statement said Golding asked Thomson not to participate in sailing, or help in any other way, due to the single-handed nature of the race.
Golding will be credited with the time he lost due to the rescue, race officials said.
Thomson had been closing in on Golding when his keel system failed. The yachts in the nearly 35,000-mile race have canting keels, which use hydraulic rams to swing the keel up to 40 degrees off the boat's centerline, reducing the boat's lean and improving performance.
"I was in my bunk grabbing a quick power kip (nap) when I was suddenly thrown across the cabin as the boat broached," Thomson said in a statement. "The boat was leaning right over on its side with the (mast) spreaders in the water."
After attempting repairs, Thomson, who was not hurt, decided to abandon his craft.
As of early Friday, defending champion Bernard Stamm was leading the race, followed by Golding, Kojiro Shiraishi, Robin Knox-Johnston, Graham Dalton and Unai Basurko.
The fleet left Bilbao, Spain, on Oct. 22. The yachts are scheduled to finish the first leg in early December. The race is set to finish in Bilbao in April.
The race has been has been staged every four years since 1982.