15 February 2005

Two hurt as Shosholoza hits whale in Table Bay

Two yachtsmen were seriously injured and another was flung overboard when South Africa's America's Cup training yacht Shosholoza hit a whale in Table Bay.

Such was the impact yesterday that it brought the 25-ton boat to a stop and sent its navigator and a crew member crashing through reinforced carbon steering wheels, which broke clean off.

The boat's skipper, Geoff Meek, fractured a knee. Navigator Marc Lagesse had a narrow escape as one of the steering's spokes pierced his neck, narrowly missing his jugular vein.

"I was checking the compass reading on the starboard steering wheel," he said.

"I hit the steering with my face and part of it pressed my throat. I hurt my collarbone in the process.

"A doctor at the hospital said there appeared to be a hairline fracture."

It would take a few days before he could sail again as his shoulder was painful, Lagesse said.

"I'll be fine by the time Shosho-loza has been repaired," Lagesse said.

Shosholoza sailing manager Paul Standbridge said the rest of the crew had minor injuries and the man overboard was pulled from the sea minutes later.

"It was shortly after midday and we were doing 10 knots. It was definitely not a glancing blow. We saw the whale surface minutes later."

No one could see injuries on the animal.

"The contrast from sailing quietly under spinnaker was dramatic. We came to such an abrupt stop, the sound of the steering wheels snapping sounded like rifle shots," he said.

The team will not be able to sail for the rest of the week while the yacht is being repaired.

"There is some internal structural damage and the mast will have to be taken out.

"We think the keel might have hit the whale full-on," he said.

Shosholoza will be making South Africa's maiden bid for the America's Cup, which takes place in Spain in 2007.


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