A world record-holding Chinese sailor on a solo trans-Pacific race has gone missing about 1,035 miles west of Hawaii and is presumed to be lost at sea.
On Wednesday evening, October 26, the Coast Guard suspended the search-and-rescue operations for Guo Chuan, 50, who was trying to set a new speed record for a solo non-stop trans-Pacific voyage on his 97-foot trimaran, the Qingdao China.
“Mr. Chuan was a professional mariner with a deep passion for sailing," Capt. Robert Hendrickson, the Coast Guard’s regional chief of response, said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go out not only to his family and friends but also to his racing team and the sailing community."
Guo left San Francisco on October 18 on his 8,055-mile journey and hoped to arrive in Shanghai in 20 days. The current speed record of 21 days, 19 hours and 31 minutes is held by Italian sailor Giovanni Soldini.
The sailor’s support team lost contact with Guo at about 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, October 25. A search helicopter, dispatched from Honolulu to Guo’s last known coordinates, found the boat’s main sail broke off the vessel and trailing in the water, but the skipper was not on board.
The United States Coast Guard sent search-and-rescue aircraft from Oahu to the scene. Crews conducted six search patterns around the Qingdao China and along its charted course on Tuesday and Wednesday, but didn’t find the sailor. The USS Makin Island, a Navy ship then in Hawaii, deployed a helicopter with a rescue swimmer, but bad weather prevented the swimmer from reaching the Qingdao China.
Finally, a crew in an inflatable boat was able to board the derelict trimaran on Wednesday afternoon. They found Guo’s life jacket on board, but no sign of the sailor. In all, searchers covered 4,600 square miles of ocean over the two-day period.
On the Guo Chuan Racing website, his team suggested that strong winds or waves could have have overpowered the sailor as he tried to adjust the sails, possibly without his safety line clipped in place.
Guo Chuan began sailing in his 30s and became a famous and inspirational figure in China when he set a world record—137 days, 20 hours, and 2 minutes—for solo nonstop world circumnavigation in a 40-foot vessel in 2013. Two years later, he set a world speed record of 13 days for a nonstop traverse of the Arctic Ocean’s Northeast Passage, an ice-choked 3,729-mile route from Murmansk, Russia to the Bering Strait, leading an international crew.
In the Arctic voyage he sailed his bright red trimaran, named after his hometown of Qingdao, an eastern port city on the Yellow Sea known as China’s sailing capital. That expedition also marked the first world record sail by a Chinese skipper managed by a Chinese team, which instilled a sense of national pride among his fans.