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Sailor missing during trans-Pacific record attempt

Dec 29, 2016
The USS Makin Island approaches Qingdao in the Pacific. Chinese solo sailor Guo Chuan, Quingdao’s skipper, was not found.

The USS Makin Island approaches Qingdao in the Pacific. Chinese solo sailor Guo Chuan, Quingdao’s skipper, was not found.

U.S. Navy photo

Chinese sailor Guo Chuan went missing and likely perished last month while trying to break the nonstop trans-Pacific world record.

Guo, 51, was nearly a week into his voyage from San Francisco to Shanghai when his shore team lost touch with him on Oct. 25. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard launched a search and identified Guo’s 97-foot super trimaran Qingdao on AIS roughly 620 miles northwest of Oahu, Hawaii.

Navy units boarded Qingdao and discovered Guo’s life jacket on deck but no trace of the sailor. The Coast Guard called off the search before nightfall on Oct. 26. Guo is officially considered missing until a body is found, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman, although his chances of survival appear incredibly small.

After training to become a scientist, Guo started sailing at age 33. He became hooked after boarding a 40-foot keelboat in Hong Kong with a friend in the late 1990s, his website said. In 2004, he sailed from the port city of Qingdao, China, to Shimonoseki, Japan.

“The trip as a friendship ambassador motivated Guo Chuan to learn to be a professional sailor,” according to Guo’s Facebook page. 

He quickly took to the sport and went on to set two endurance records. Guo set the 40-foot solo nonstop circumnavigation world record in 2013 and the Arctic Ocean Northeast Passage non-stop sailing world record in 2015. He was attempting to complete the nonstop trans-Pacific world record by completing the San Francisco to Shanghai voyage within 20 days.

Guo departed San Francisco on Oct. 18 and was well ahead of record pace for much of the voyage. He checked in regularly with his family and shore team throughout the voyage, and his last communication occurred at 1500 Beijing time on Oct. 25, or 0300 Eastern Standard Time.

A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules began searching for Guo later on Oct. 25, and on Oct. 26 a helicopter from the U.S. Navy vessel USS Makin Island located Qingdao and hailed the boat several times with no replies.

“They followed up by deploying a rigid-hulled inflatable boat and crew to conduct a boarding of the trimaran Wednesday afternoon,” the Coast Guard said in a news release. “The boat crew confirmed Chuan was not on the vessel although his life jacket remains aboard.”

All told, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard combed more than 4,600 square miles of ocean while searching for Guo.
 
There is no clear evidence of what happened to the missing sailor, although his team has posited two theories posted on his website. One suggested the gennaker cable broke, and that a “bad wave” tossed Guo from the trimaran while he was unhooked attending to the gennaker sail in the water.

The other supposes he was furling the gennaker for safe sailing at night and tried to drop it on the windward side. While holding the halyard and gennaker, it was suggested he lost control of the halyard, causing the gennaker to fall on Qingdao’s leeward side.

“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,” team members suggested on his website.

Capt. Robert Hendrickson, chief of response for the Coast Guard 14th District, described Guo as “a professional mariner with a deep passion for sailing.”

“Our deepest condolences go out not only to his family and friends but also to his racing team and the sailing community,” Hendrickson said.

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