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Race yacht with injured crew limps into California

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 11:27 AM EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Geraldton Western Australia arrives in port after being damaged in a storm
  • 2 hurt sailors traveled to California's Bay Area in a Coast Guard cutter, an organizer says
  • "Everyone is safe and sound," a Coast Guard official says of the rescue operation
  • The yacht was participating in a 40,000-mile around-the-world race

(CNN) -- A yacht damaged by a giant wave during an around-the-world race limped into Oakland, California, on Tuesday, a day after the U.S. Coast Guard brought two sailors injured in the storm to California.

The Geraldton Western Australia arrived at Jack London Square "to a hero's welcome," organizers of the Clipper Round the World Race said on Twitter on Tuesday morning.

The Coast Guard cutter Bertholf carried the pair of injured sailors into Alameda on Monday, according to Isabel Hokken, a spokeswoman for the race. Located just south of Oakland, Alameda is home to an island that houses a Coast Guard station.

The sailors were among four members of the Geraldton Western Australia's crew hurt Saturday in stormy weather as they sailed from China to San Francisco for one leg of the race, race organizers said. The rest of the crew was described as "uninjured but shaken."

Rough waters hindered initial attempts to airlift the wounded from the yacht, which at the time was about 250 miles west of San Francisco.

On Sunday evening, with the help of a rescue swimmer, the two most seriously hurt sailors were transferred first to a small rescue boat and eventually to the larger Coast Guard cutter.

They were identified by the Coast Guard as Jane Hitchens, 50, a doctor with suspected broken ribs, and Nik Brbora, 29, a software engineer with a possible pelvic strain. Race organizers had previously given different ages for those two and the other two sailors hurt.

As of Monday afternoon, Hitchens and Brbora were in stable condition, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield.

"This was a very successful operation," Critchfield said minutes before the injured pair pulled up to the mainland. "Everyone is safe and sound."

After their arrival, Hitchens and Brbora were to be transported to San Francisco General Hospital for further treatment, Hokken said.

The other sailors injured -- identified by race organizers and the Coast Guard as Max Wilson, 62, a farmer with suspected broken ribs, and Mark Burkes, 47, with a back injury -- remained on board the yacht on Monday.

On the race's website, the yacht's skipper, Juan Coetzer, said Burkes was at the helm of the boat when the wave came crashing over the stern.

"The water had so much force in it that it pushed Mark into the helm, snapping the pedestal clean off. We had no steering, and crew were falling all over the boat," Coetzer wrote.

The boat had been tossed by wind gusts between 45 and 70 mph before the wave hit, he said.

The yacht was on the sixth leg of the eight-leg, 11-month race when it was struck.

The contest pits 10 yachts crewed by amateurs and one professional skipper apiece against each other on a 40,000-mile journey around the world's seas.

Hokken, the race spokeswoman, said the Geraldton Western Australia should undergo maintenance soon after it arrives so it could rejoin the race that is slated to end in July in England.

"We've seen a lot in the last 15 years, and any nature of ocean racing involves big seas," she said, adding race participants understand the dangers of traversing the world's oceans.

CNN's Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

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