Battered racing yacht, crew limp into S.F.

Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf's cutter boat working to recover two injured sailors from the damaged racing yacht Geraldton Western Australia 250 miles west of the California coast, April 2, 2012.
US Coast Guard/Cutter Bertholf

(AP) ALAMEDA, Calif. - A battered racing yacht and its bruised crew arrived at a California port Tuesday, three days after a monstrous wave knocked off its steering wheel and injured several crew members during an around-the-world race.

The Geraldton Western Australia was slammed by the giant wave on Saturday about 400 miles west of San Francisco during the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

After the Coast Guard picked up two injured members Sunday, the remaining 11 sailors decided to press on to finish the race's longest leg. They reached the Port of Oakland Tuesday at about 3 a.m., becoming the last of 10 boats to complete a 5,680-mile trek across the Pacific.

A Coast Guard cutter returned to its port in Alameda on Monday afternoon with the two injured crew members.

Coast Guard rescues injured U.K. sailors
Sailors injured in storm during race off Calif.

Jane Hitchens, 50, and Nik Brbora, 29, carefully walked off the Coast Guard ship and waved to reporters before they were put on stretchers and taken to a hospital in separate ambulances. Brbora was welcomed by his partner, who was sailing on a competing yacht that arrived earlier.

Hitchens, a doctor from Kent, England, appears to have suffered broken ribs, while Brbora, a software engineer from London, injured his pelvis, said assistant race director Justin Taylor, who met with them after they arrived in Alameda.

It was unclear whether they would rejoin the race, which resumes April 14 when crews set sail for Panama and then New York.

"I think if they could get back on the boat tomorrow, they would," Taylor said. "But it's very much up to the doctors whether they're going to get signed off as medically fit to come back."

The two crew members were hurt Saturday when the huge wave smashed over their 68-foot yacht's stern with such force that it carried away the boat's steering wheel and knocked the crew about like bowling pins.

"Every once in a while that wave will come out of nowhere, it's got your name on it and it's going to slam you," said Taylor, a two-time skipper in the contest. "And that's exactly what happened."

The crew managed to quickly replace the steering wheel with a tiller and got the yacht under control by pulling down "the remains of our main sail" and raising a much smaller "storm jib," slowing the boat's progress considerably, captain Juan Coetzer told race organizers in comments posted online.

"The sea was alive with rage," Coetzer said. "Then at our watch change, just before the sun came up (Saturday), a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern."