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1998: Six die as huge waves smash into yachts
Six people are feared dead after raging storms hit competitors in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

British Olympic yachtsman Glyn Charles is missing presumed dead after his safety harness snapped in winds of up to 90mph (144km/h), with waves of 40ft (12m) high reported by sailors in the prestigious Australian race.

Sailors from around the world are taking part in the 630 nautical mile (1167km) race from Sydney Harbour to Hobart on Tasmania.

Mr Charles, from Emsworth, Hampshire, is one of six competitors who are thought to have drowned as 115 yachts taking part in race were lashed by storms in the notoriously treacherous stretch of sea, which has often been called "Hell on High Water" by sailors.

He was swept overboard after his yacht Sword of Orion lost its mast and capsized, flinging crew members into the sea.
His harness broke and we lost him. There was nothing we could do. I thought we were all going to die.
Boat owner Rob Kothe
The search for Mr Charles' body was called off as darkness fell 24 hours after he was lost. He had postponed a trip home to see his mother after being offered a chance to compete in the race.

I always used to say if something happened to Glyn while he was sailing, he was doing the thing he loved most.
Glyn's mother Margaret Charles
Four bodies have been recovered and rescuers have now given up hope of finding the Briton and an Australian yachtsman, who are presumed drowned in the worst death toll in the 54-year history of the event.

The other missing man was thought to be an Australian, who was a crew member aboard the Winston Churchill, which had sailed in the inaugural 1944 race. The bodies of two other crew members from the yacht have been recovered.

A New South Wales government coroner's inquiry has been ordered to investigate the loss of life, while the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the race organiser, will also investigate the disaster.

A helicopter lifted a crew of 12 from the dismasted VC Offshore Stand Aside, a 40ft (12m) yacht from Adelaide. One crew member lost several fingers and another sailor suffered head injuries.

Sixty-seven boats - well over half the starters - have abandoned the race and are heading for safe harbour, with dozens arriving at the New South Wales port of Eden. Many of the sailors were in tears as they stepped ashore. The flags festooning Hobart are at half-mast.

Veterans - including former UK prime minister Sir Edward Heath - who won in 1969 skippering Morning Cloud, have spoken of enormous waves and hours spent struggling to cover just a few miles.

Rescuers, including helicopters crews using thermal imaging equipment and seven Australian Air Force planes, took part in the search.

The deaths have prompted questions about why organisers did not delay the start of the race following forecasts of bad weather in the Bass Strait.

The Sayonara was first to finish the race at 0806 local time, coming up the river Derwent surrounded by probably the smallest spectator fleet for many years. The yacht was five hours outside the race record, finishing in a little over two days and 19 hours.

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Yachts in Sydney harbour
Yachts get ready for Sydney to Hobart race


In Context
The 54-year-old Sydney to Hobart race has become a Christmas tradition. As suggested by its nickname, "Hell on High Water", the race has at times run into stormy seas.

However, previously it had claimed only two lives: in 1984 a man was washed overboard in gale-force winds and in 1989 a man died of head injuries after winds snapped a yacht's mast.

In 1993, two boats sank and 66 of the 105 yachts taking part in the race were forced to retire.

In 2002, two sailors were swept overboard but were quickly rescued. Two yachts were also foced to withdraw after collisions.

The loss of six lives in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race was the worst tragedy to hit the yachting world since Fastnet in 1979.

On Saturday August 11, 1979, 335 yachts set out from the Isle of Wight to race around the Fastnet Rock off Eire. They were hit by hurricane-force winds.

Twenty-three boats sank or were abandoned and many of the 114 sailors who were rescued were seriously injured.


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