Search Called Off for Professional Solo-Sailor Missing in the Pacific

Guo Chuan departs San Francisco aboard the Oct.
Guo Chuan departs San Francisco aboard the Qingdao China, Oct. 19, 2016. Credit: Guo Chuan Racing

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended the active search for a professional Chinese sailor who is believed to have fallen overboard while sailing his 97-foot racing trimaran solo across the Pacific.

Guo Chuan, 50, departed San Fransisco aboard his trimaran, Qingdao China, on October 18 aiming to set a non-stop solo trans-Pacific sailing world record to Shanghai in 18 days.

Guo Chuan.
Guo Chuan.

He was reported missing to the Coast Guard on Tuesday after his team had not heard from him in 24 hours. A U.S. Navy ship located the Qingdao China, which was actively transmitting on an automatic identification system, on Wednesday about 620 miles northwest of Oahu. A boatcrew eventually boarded the vessel and confirmed that Chuan was not on board, although his life jacket remained with the vessel.

Guo Chuan is regarded as a very experienced sailor and is reportedly in good health. He is co-founder of Guo Chuan Racing and holds number of world records for sailing, including leading a non-stop voyage through the Arctic’s Northeast Passage in 2015 aboard the Qingdao China.

Chuan’s racing team offered two possible scenarios (see below) for what could have happened, although the team said he would have been wearing his life jacket with a safety line and a beacon during each.

U.S. Coast Guard image taken Oct. 26, 2016. Credit: Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard image taken Oct. 26, 2016. Credit: Coast Guard

The Coast Guard said on-scene assets searched a total area of more than 4,600 square miles over the two-day period.

The Coast Guard reports that the Quindao China remains adrift, the mainsail has been doused and the vessel has been marked. A broadcast notice has been issued to mariners in area alerting them to the potential hazard.

Chuan’s racing team is making arrangements to recover the vessel.

Two Scenarios

Scenario 1

Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and gennaker in about 13 to 20knts wind downwind which is a reasonable sail configuration for these conditions. 

At the end of the day he decided to furl the gennaker in order to sail even safer for the night. After that he tried to drop it on windward side (which becomes a tricky maneuver in stronger winds for a solo sailor). Holding the halyard and restraining the gennaker at the same time, he lost the control of the halyard and the gennaker finally fell brutally down far away on the leeward side of the boat. As he was trying to restrain the gennaker to fall in the water he got pushed and ripped out of the boat either at the side of the starboard float or in front of the starboard front beam.

Scenario 2:

Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and J1 in about 13 to 20knts wind downwind which is the safest sail configuration for sailing at night. 

The gennaker was furled and still hoysted. For an unknown reason the halyard or the gennaker cable broke. Guo first furled the J1 in order to slow down the boat before taking care of the gennaker that has fallen in the water.

He then began to get the gennaker back on the net close to the starboard float. By manipulating the very powerful gennaker  (which was drifting in the water) out of the water, he had at a certain moment to unhook his safety lifeline in order to change his position on the boat. A bad wave throw the gennaker back in the water and pushed Guo out of the boat.

Guo had most probably a life jacket with a safety line and a beacon for these maneuvers. In the first scenario, you need to unclip the the safety lifeline at one point.

Quindao China Details

  • Length Overall: 29.70 m
  • Length of floats: 24.5 m
  • Beam: 16.5 m
  • Weight: 1 t
  • Upwind sail surface: 350 m²
  • Downwind sail surface: 520 m²
  • Mast height: 32 m