Emily Nagel said the most recent leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is a “brutal reminder” of the risks sailors face in the around the world race.
The Bermudian is competing with Dutch syndicate, Team AkzoNobel, who placed third in leg seven from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil that was marred by tragedy.
British sailor John Fisher, a friend of Nagel, was knocked overboard in the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean from the deck of Hong Kong entry Sun Hung Kai Scallywag by the mainsheet system and was never found despite rescue efforts.
“This leg will always be remembered as the one where we lost a good friend though and serves as a brutal reminder just how dangerous this race can be and even the most experienced sailors are at risk,” Nagel told The Royal Gazette.
“The loss of Fish was a complete shock and totally devastating.
“When we got the news that someone went overboard on Scallywag all their names were flying through my head. It wasn’t until a couple of watches later that we found out who it was and the shock that it was Fish was a hard blow.
“It was important for me to try and block off emotions for the rest of the trip in order to stay focused on the race and staying safe.”
Leg seven dished out punishing conditions, in particular during the passage through the Southern Ocean, where the fleet battled through multiple storms accompanied by screaming winds, steep breaking waves and the occasional snow and hail.
“The conditions were tough,” Nagel said. “Not only were the wind and waves huge, but the temperatures freezing.
“We had a week of snow and hail every morning and evening. The snow is fine, but when it hails it’s brutal, there is nowhere to hide you just have to take it.
“Our main focus as a team was to get the boat and everyone on-board safely to Brazil, so to accomplish that and with a podium finish is a proud accomplishment.”
During the passage Nagel, who is also a certified naval architect, fulfilled a childhood dream of sailing around Cape Horn widely regarded as one of the major challenges in yachting.
Cape Horn is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet with the waters around it particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs which have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.
“I can’t describe how incredible Cape Horn was,” Nagel said.
“I was the first to spot the [Hermite Islands] after two weeks at sea and the rush of excitement was huge.
“I have dreamt of sailing around Cape Horn since I was little, so to accomplish that was huge.
“It was a rollercoaster of a leg, and the mix of emotions is huge.”
Nagel and her team-mates completed the 14,000-kilometre passage in an elapsed time of 18 days, three hours, 38 mins and 24 seconds after setting sail from Auckland on her 24th birthday.
It was the Dutch syndicate’s third straight podium finish, which leaves them in fourth in the overall Volvo Ocean Race standings with four legs remaining.
Fellow Dutch syndicate Team Brunel, whose team includes 35th America’s Cup winning helmsman Peter Burling, won leg seven followed by China’s Dongfeng Race Team, the overall leaders, in second.
Leg eight from Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island commences April 22.