Clipper sailor Andrew Ashman broke his neck in increasing seas, says interim MAIB report

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A new report into the death of Clipper sailor Andrew Ashman (49) reveals he broke his neck after the CV21 Ichorcoal, in which he was racing across the Atlantic, moved suddenly in increasing seas off the coast of Portugal last year.

Mr Ashman, the first man killed on the Clipper Round the World Race in its history, was leading a watch when he was hit by a swinging boom, according to an interim report into the incident released by the Marine Accident Investigations Branch on Monday, October 3.

The report explains the Kent sailor was the victim of “an uncontrolled gybe as the crew were preparing to reef the mainsail,” a gybe being the technical term for a manoeuvre in which a yacht turns its stern through the wind.

The report explains how the crew, which consisted of a professional yacht skipper and 21 fee-paying amateur sailors, had been divided into two watches and that Mr Ashman was the watchleader as midnight approached on September 4.

“The starboard watch, with the exception of three crew designated below-deck duties, were on deck with the watchleader, Andrew Ashman, in charge,” the investigators report.

“The crew were all wearing oilskins, head torches and lifejackets with tethers that were attached to a secure point on deck. CV21 was following a south-westerly course at a speed over the ground (SOG) of approximately 11 knots,” the report adds.

The MAIB point out how the conditions, 122 nautical miles off the Portuguese coast, had been worsening somewhat in the lead up to the accident.

“Since taking over the watch nearly two hours previously, the wind strength and seas had steadily increased until, at 2345, Andrew decided that the mainsail needed to be reefed, the skipper, who was below in the cabin agreed,” the report states.

“At this time Andrew was standing aft of the traveller rail and to port of the helmsman. At approximately 2356, Andrew moved forward from the stern of the cockpit to brief his crew when the yacht suddenly moved across the swell and wind.

“This caused the wind to catch the leech of the mainsail pulling it back, causing tension on the gybe preventer line,” it adds.

This gust proved fatal for Mr Ashman, with equipment breaking, and the boom being released.

“The strop securing the preventer line to the bow, broke, releasing the boom, which moved swiftly to starboard across the cockpit in an uncontrolled gybe,” the investigators state.

“The yacht then performed a second uncontrolled gybe with the boom swinging back onto the port side, before the helmsman was able to regain control. During the uncontrolled gybes Andrew sustained a fatal neck injury and could not be resuscitated despite the efforts of his crew mates,” they add.

A draft report of the MAIB investigation is due to be distributed to key stakeholders later this month.