Another fatality in the Clipper Race

20 Nov
Clipper entry Quingdao in the Southern Ocean
I read an article the other day that posed the question; “Is sailing a dangerous sport?” I kind of scoffed at it after reading that the author of a report concluded that sailing is indeed a dangerous sport. I mean seriously, how dangerous can it be to be on a boat plodding along at 5 knots on a sunny summer afternoon? Well once again I was wrong. I read the news over the weekend that there had been another fatality in the Clipper Round the World Race. A 60 year old former lawyer from England was washed overboard and by the time the crew was able to recover him he was dead. This is the third death in the Clipper Race in the last couple of years and it begs the question. “what the heck is going on with that race?”

Simon Spiers
Let’s first take a quick look at the idea of amateur sailors paying for a berth in an around the world race. I, for one, think it’s a fantastic idea and a great opportunity for sailors to experience one of life’s greatest challenges; a circumnavigation. Simon Spiers, the person who was washed overboard this past weekend, had most likely worked his backside off for most of his life and was finally able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He was likely ticking a box on his bucket list. What a grand idea. Now I know that plenty of you will point out that it probably was not such a great idea given that he is dead and you will continue on to say that he was inexperienced and should not have been out there. Let me counter by saying that Mr Spiers had at least 10,000 nautical miles under his belt in the Clipper Race alone. That’s more sea miles than most “experienced” sailors accumulate in a lifetime. That’s plenty of experience so that argument is facile.

I think it comes down to a basic law of averages. There are so many people out on the water sailing these days that the chances of something happening is increased. In terms of big offshore races right now we have the Volvo Ocean Race going on, the Clipper Race, the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Mini Transat. I am too lazy to count how many sailors that is but it’s a lot and the odds of something happening to someone is therefore increased. Mr Spiers could just as easily have been hit by a London bus had he continued on as a lawyer.

One of the first people to take on paying crew for an around-the-world race was the late Rob James. Rob was an immensely experienced sailor but ironically it was he who died in a freak accident. Rob and his crew had just delivered his 60-foot trimaran from Cowes to Salcombe on the south coast of England when he went forward to drop the mainsail and fell into the water. By all accounts it was pretty calm but it took the crew an hour and forty-five minutes to locate and recover his body. Let’s also not forget that it’s been over a decade since the highly experienced Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard and died during one of the final legs of the Volvo Ocean Race and in the earlier versions of the race, when it was called the Whitbread Round the World Race, they lost three sailors overboard. The possibility of being washed overboard comes with the territory if you want to race a sailboat around the world. With that in mind I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the Clipper Race. The pre-race training is rigorous and the safety standards are high. This was just bad luck. I send my condolences to his family and friends and I hope that those who are quick to criticize sit on your hands for a while longer before jumping in and condemning the race organizers.

My ride in the 80/90 Whitbread Race – yes it can be wild at times

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Norris Larson

    Falling overboard is dramatic, “newsworthy.” Repeated concussions with serious consequences that show up for a long time are not. Is going to sea more dangerous that riding a motorcycle?, especially without a helmet and while wearing sandals and shorts?

  2. Sebastian Kuhn

    I join in the condolences to Mr. Spiers’ loved ones, and I certainly understand the sentiment expressed by BrianHancock and the other posters – Mr. Spiers died doing something he loved. However, this sentiment (and Brian’s article) completely fail to answer the question raised in the opening of the article: “Is sailing a dangerous sport?”. Yes, increasing numbers of sailors (and racing sailors) will increase the number of fatalities, but are the odds for a bad or fatal outcome higher for the individual sailor in an ocean race than that for other sports? (They are certainly higher than being “hit by a London bus”). This cannot be answered with emphatic pronouncements about the beauty of sailing – only with cold statistics. Clearly, there are similarly dangerous endeavors – mountain climbing, car racing etc., but does ocean racing rank right up there with these in terms of fatalities/participants, or is it more akin to, say, tennis or soccer (physically challenging, yes, but not very deadly)? At least one scientific study claims it’s more dangerous than playing football:

  3. Dale

    Sad to see he lost his life (doing what he loved); my prayers to his family. Do what you enjoy and cherish the length of time you have on earth as we all will die sometime. We just don’t know WHEN or HOW.

  4. Doug Dean

    Condolences for the family and friends of Mr. Spiers.
    He was brave enough to get off his bottom and go do something that awesome!

  5. Ben

    Actually, the PROBABILITY of becoming a casualty during any ocean, or even lake, sailing race have probably gone down, given all the advancements in safety equipment and training. But Brian is correct that, with so many more sailors participating, the NUMBER of casualties is bound to go up. I believe any one individual has less chance of being killed during a sailing race these days and would NOT HESITATE to sign on as crew! Condolences to Mr. Spiers’s family for their loss.

  6. Brian epperson

    Hoping for me info on his accident. We need the full story for this tragedy to be a learning experience. Whats was right? What was wrong?

  7. firstlast

    “The best you can do is to go out and come back.
    It’s what happens in between that determines and
    defines your seamanship”

  8. Azim

    As the writer mentions, so many events and so many sailors on water, the law of averages and probability catches up. He passed doing something he liked and dreamt of. RIP

  9. Jean-Francois Mc Dermott

    Unlike probably most of us….Mr. Spiershe died fulfilling his long sought dream. I hope we can all be so fortunate.

  10. Randy

    Respect for Mother Nature is a requirement for all who choose to experience her power. Beauty is often the beast in her extremes. Ocean racers have a relationship with the sea that can be the end ……. but they choose to have those moments that exist nowhere else in the human experience. It’s hard to explain to someone who has not walked the walk — priceless.

  11. Bob Lausch

    I live near Oshkosh,Wi. Air Venture, the annual fly-in,air show draws 750k to a million visitors every year. Every year 2-3 people die. Sometimes without plane crashes. People die. The more people, the more die. Get used to it. Sorry to sound macabre, but live your life!


    Maybe his tether was a little too long. Had he shortened it by being in the bow……I´m not too experienced but it is common sense . Do I sound stupid?

  13. Andrew

    “Although he was clipped on with his safety tether, he became separated from the yacht in the Southern Ocean in a rough sea state in 20 knots of wind, gusting up to 40.

    “The team’s man overboard recovery training kicked into immediate effect and despite the rough conditions, Simon was recovered back on board by the skipper and crew within 36 minutes, at which point CPR was immediately administered by three medically trained crew, which included a GP.

    S*** Happens. Especially in the Southern Ocean

  14. Andy

    I agree with you Brian. If there’s a sport where the luck plays an important part is sailing. That’s why sailors of all times are superstitious.
    Just bad luck for Mr. Spiers.
    My grandma, a wise woman, used to say: “Nobody dies in the eve” Perhaps was the time for Mr. Spiers, as the saying states.
    Condolences for the family and friends of Mr. Spiers. Maybe is a consolation that he died doing what he liked most.

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