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Yachting: No sport for the faint-hearted

  • Story Highlights
  • Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicantes, Spain in October
  • Sailors have died in yacht races as recently as September of this year
  • The 1979 Fastnet yacht race saw 15 people die in huge storms
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By Mike Steere
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It doesn't have the brutality of rugby or the physical intimidation of a boxing match, yet sailing is still one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

Capsized: This French catamaran flipped near New Zealand while attempting to win the Jules Verne Trophy.

This danger is never more evident than in the epic Volvo Ocean Race.

The round-the-world event which begins this month in Alicante, Spain, always throws up its fair share of drama as the crews face all types of conditions right through to the race finish around July 2009.

To give an idea of the extreme dangers this year's crews will face over the coming nine months, here is a look at some of the worst tragedies to strike yacht racing.

There's no question about it: this is no sport for the faint-hearted.

September 2008 Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai
Death toll: One

Wilfrid Tolhurst was killed during the famous Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai yacht race off Cannes that sees the major classic yachts in the Mediterranean gather.

Skippering the eight-meter yacht, Safir, in the coastal race, Tolhurst was struck by the boat's falling mast that broke off under the impact of a collision with another boat, Rowdy. Although rescue crews reacted quickly to bring the skipper ashore, nothing could be done to save his life.

A police inquiry is currently in progress to determine the cause of the incident.

September 2008 Sean Whiston Perpetual Cup Race
Death toll: One

Kenneth Jones (46) lost his life while sailing in a race from Wicklow to the Poolbeg Yacht Club in Dublin, Ireland.

It was not clear what caused the incident, however, a mayday was issued by the yacht Allanah, stating that there was 'a man in the water.'

Jones was lifted from the water and transferred to Tallaght Hospital where he later died.

May 2006 Volvo Ocean Race
Death toll: One

During the seventh leg of the race Hans Horrevoets, 32, of The Netherlands was swept overboard from ABN Amro Two in heavy seas. Although he was recovered from the water, attempts to resuscitate him were not successful.

The savage storm that hit the fleet could easily have claimed more lives.

The crew of Movistar abandoned ship after the aft end of their keel pivot broke away from their hull in the night -- less than 48 hours after Horrevoets died. The crew transferred to ABN Amro Two which had been standing by and was escorted by HMS Mersey back to land.

December 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race
Death toll: Six

One of the saddest events in yachting history began at Sydney Harbor on December 26, 1998, when the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race set off.

Fierce storms and violent winds battered the 115-strong fleet in the famously tough event off the eastern coast of Australia and only 44 boats made it to the finish line at Hobart.

Met by the massive storms, five boats sank, 66 boats retired from the race, six sailors died, and 55 sailors were taken off their yachts, most by helicopter.

Among those who died were; Mike Bannister (Winston Churchill), Glyn Charles (Sword of Orion), John Dean (Winston Churchill), Bruce Guy (Business Post Naiad), Jim Lawler (Winston Churchill), Phillip Skeggs (Business Post Naiad).

The vessels; Winston Churchill, VC Offshore Stand Aside, Sword of Orion, Miintinta, and Midnight Special all sank.

1989 Whitbread Round the World Race
Death toll: One

Competing boat Creighton's Naturally suffered a serious broach in the early hours of one morning during the second leg of the race, at about three in the morning.

Crew members Anthony (Tony) Philips and Bart van den Dwey were swept over board. Both were pulled back on deck and although Van den Dwey was successfully resuscitated, after three hours of trying, crew members could not revive Philips. Several days later, by radio agreement with his relatives, Philips was buried at sea.

December 1989 Sydney to Hobart Race
Death toll: One

Peter Taylor, crew member aboard BP Flying Colours suffered fatal head injuries when a runner on his vessel broke and the rig collapsed in gale-force south westerly winds.

December 1988 Sydney to Hobart Race
Death toll: One

In another grueling race 38 of the 119 starters retired, nearly half of them with broken masts or damaged rigging. Ray Crawford aboard Billabong was killed.

December 1984 Sydney to Hobart Race
Death toll: One

Wally Russell of Yahoo II died during the 1984 edition of the race, which was hit by a low pressure system that created two different swell patterns.

August 1979 Fastnet Yacht Race
Death toll: Fifteen

Huge storms in the Irish Sea wreaked havoc on more than 300 yachts taking part in the biennial race, resulting in 15 deaths and one of the worst yacht race disasters of all time.

The race was well regarded after being established in 1925, and in 1979 was the climax of the five-race Admiral's Cup competition.

As the storms battered the fleet, naval ships, lifeboats, commercial boats, and helicopters from the west side of the English Channel were brought to aid what was the largest peace-time rescue operation.

The rescue effort saw 125 sailors, whose boats had been caught in force 11 storm strength wind gusts, taken to safety, while 15 people could not be saved.

In total 69 yachts did not finish the race.

December 1975 Sydney to Hobart Race
Death toll: One

Zilvergeest III's Hugh (Barry) Vallance was killed during the 1975 event, despite reasonably good sailing conditions.

September 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race
Death toll: Three

The first race started off from Portsmouth, England on September 8, 1973. Seventeen yachts of various sizes and shapes took part.

During the race three sailors were swept over board and died: Paul Waterhouse, Dominique Guillet and Bernie Hosking. Waterhouse and Guillet were never to be seen again.

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