Kirsten Neuschafer has been awarded the Rod Stephen Seamanship Trophy by the Cruising Club of America following her role in the rescue of fellow race entrant, Tapio Lehtinen
Kirsten Neuschafer has been recognised for the role she played in the rescue of fellow 2022 Golden Globe Race skipper, Tapio Lehtinen, after his Gaia 36 sank 450 miles south east of Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
The Cruising Club of America has named her the recipient of the 2022 Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy.
The accolade is awarded to a sailor annually ‘for an act of seamanship which significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht, or one or more individuals at sea.’
Neuschafer was the closest sailor to Lehtinen when his Gaia 36 started sinking on the morning of 18 November 2022; within minutes the Finnish sailor had to make the difficult decision to abandon ship for his liferaft, and the yacht sank 20 minutes later. It is still not known why Asteria sank.
Once in the liferaft, Lehtinen alerted Golden Globe Race HQ, who contacted the nearest entrants to Asteria‘s position – Kirsten Neuschafer and Abhilash Tomy. The crew of the bulk carrier Darya Gayatri were also alerted and began heading to the scene.
Tomy was stood down once it become clear that Neuschafer would reach Lehtinen’s position in less than 24 hours, as she was just 95 miles away.
She helmed her Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha through the night, making speeds of up to 8 knots to reach Lehtinen at dawn on the 19 November 2022.
She received regular updates on weather and the position of Lehtinen’s liferaft so she could maximise routing to reach him as soon as possible.
Due to the 2-3 metre swell and initial problems communicating via VHF radio, it took several attempts for Neuschafer to locate Lehtinen, who fired several flares.
But eventually, Minnehaha came alongside and Lehtinen was able to climb onboard where they hugged, shared a glass of rum and several chocolate bars.
Kirsten Neuschafer then had to negotiate transferring Lehtinen to the bulk carrier Darya Gayatri.
The ship moved so Darya Gayatri‘s starboard side was against the wind, allowing Neuschafer to manoeuvre Minnehaha into the ship’s lee.
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A line was thrown to Minnehaha from Darya Gayatri. Lehtinen disembarked Minnehaha and then tied the line to his liferaft, allowing him to be pulled against the side of Darya Gayatri to the bottom of a 10m rope ladder, which he climbed to safety.
Speaking just after her role in the rescue, Kirsten Neuschafer said: ‘‘I felt really bad for him [Lehtinen]. I would not like to spend a night in a raft in the southern Indian Ocean. I tried to get there as quickly as I could.’
In a letter thanking all of those involved in his rescue, Tapio Lehtinen praised Neuschafer for her seamanship.
‘Thank you also Kirsten for your excellent seamanship in manouvering Minnehaha next to the raft, getting me onboard and for the rum. And then in cooperation with captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra, getting Minnehaha safely in the lee of m/v Darya Gayatri and getting me safely onboard the ship where I am now very happily enjoying the Indian hospitality of the captain and crew.’
Previous recipients of the Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy have included offshore racer Mike Golding for his rescue of fellow Velux 5 Oceans Race entrant, Alex Thomson, after the canting keel of his yacht, Hugo Boss broke 1000 miles south east of Cape Town, and offshore solo sailors Susanne Huber-Curphey and Tony Curphey, after Susanne sailed for days to rescue Tony after his yacht began taking on water in the Pacific.
2018 Golden Globe Race skipper Gregor McGuckin, also won the Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy in 2019 after he went to the aid of fellow entrant Abhilash Tomy, after both solo sailors lost the masts of their yachts in a southern Indian Ocean storm.
Tomy was seriously injured, having broken his back in four places.
Despite losing both of the masts of his Biscay 36 ketch, McGuckin managed to build a jury rig with his one surviving spinnaker pole and began sailing towards Tomy’s position.
The Indian and Australian Navies were also dispatched, along with a French fisheries patrol boat, OSIRIS. The French crew were the first to reach Tomy’s position and rescued him before he was transferred into the care of the Indian Navy.
McGuckin reached within 25 miles of Tomy’s yacht, before he too was rescued and taken by the Australian frigate HMAS Ballarat to Perth, Australia.
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