One Killed as Historic Norwegian Yacht Sinks During Race

Wyvern. Photo: Sjöfartsverket
Wyvern. Photo: Sjöfartsverket

One person is believed to have been killed when a historic Norwegian sailboat sank Thursday in the Baltic Sea off Sweden during a race.

The Swedish Maritime Agency, Sjöfartsverket, reported that the 60-foot Wyvern radioed early Thursday that it was taking on water and in need of assistance with 10 people on board while sailing in “The Tall Ship’s Race” near the island of Gotland’s southern tip.

Wyvern. Image courtesy Stavanger Maritime Museum
Wyvern. Image courtesy Stavanger Maritime Museum

Sjöfartsverket diverted a number of nearby vessels, two helicopters and rescue boats to the scene to assist.  By 8 a.m. that morning, all ten crew members were evacuated by helicopter and flown safely to Kalmar on Sweden’s east coast.

Things took a turn for the worse when three crew members from the Dutch tall ship, Wylde Swan, boarded the sinking Wyvern in an effort to save her.

Sjöfartsverket says that the Wyvern sunk at 9:37 a.m., forcing the men into the water. Two of the three were picked up by one of the rescue boats, but the third went missing in strong winds and seas up to four feet.

An extensive search of the area was conducted but was called off a few hours later. A statement from Sjöfartsverket said that the third person is believed to have been stuck in the Wyvern’s rigging when she sank in 50 meters of water.

The missing person has been identified as volunteer crew member and engineer, Koen van Gogh, from the Wylde Swan.

As someone who’s all too familiar with saving those in peril at sea, Mario Vittone commented on the incident:

“There was a certain amount of hubris on the part of the Wylde Swan crew to think that the ten members of the Wyvern crew –  who knew their ship better than anybody – had decided to abandon her if saving her was a safe option.  Obviously they had tried to stop the progressive flooding themselves and could not. Obviously, the Wyvern crew believed they knew better and had a go at a salvage operation. The speed at which they boarded her (sometime between 0800 when the Wyvern crew was lifted off and 0937 when she sank) is even more confusing to me.  If you wanted to help save the Wyvern, why would you wait until they were off to have a go at it.

Perhaps it was just a function of timing and they got there as soon as they could.

Regardless, to board a sinking boat to save the crew is one thing; it is a risk well considered. But to board her in an attempt to save just the ship itself meant they were engaged in all risk with little gain.  They weren’t risking their lives to save a life, they were risking their life in a trade for a hull and sails.

Personally, it wasn’t something I would have done.

Built in 1897 by the famous shipbuilder Colin Archer, the Wyvern was well known for her transatlantic and around-the-world voyages in the mid-twentieth century. On August 21, 1984, the Wyvern was presented to the Stavanger Maritime Museum in Norway as a gift and has since participated has participated in (and won) many national and international regattas.

The Tall Ships Race is hosted by Sail Training International. The race sails from Aarhus, Denmark to Helsinki and this year is expected to attract 120 tall ships from around the world.