Ten days after rounding Cape Horn, among the rarest of feats in sailing, Ronnie Simpson’s bid to race around the world ended Monday evening hundreds of miles off the coast of Argentina. He abandoned his sailboat and was safely taken aboard the cargo vessel Sakizaya Youth, which had been dispatched to rescue Simpson.

Simpson was competing in the Global Solo Challenge on behalf of Annapolis-based U.S. Patriot Sailing, which owned his Open 50 race boat that was sponsored by Shipyard Brewing. After completion of the race, the Open 50 was supposed to come to Annapolis in May to join the fleet of Patriot Sailing, a group that supports veterans through sailing. Simpson was in third place, a position he had held for more than two months, when the mast of his boat broke off in rough seas in the middle of the night.

He needed only a few hours to make the best and most terrible decision of his race: to activate his emergency beacon, call for a rescue and abandon his 30-year-old vessel, which was called Sparrow before Shipyard Brewing became Simpson’s title sponsor. He made the decision about 2 a.m. local time (midnight Eastern Standard Time) Monday morning and waited for a tense 10 hours before a nearby vessel could be contacted and sent his way. The Panamanian-flagged Sakizaya Youth, on its way from South Africa to Argentina, reversed course to pick up Simpson. By sundown he was safely aboard, just in time to avoid a strong, dangerous storm. He is expected to be on land in a few days.

About an hour before the Sakizaya Youth reached him, he posted a reel on Instagram confirming he had sighted the 750-foot ship and shared his thoughts on the end of his race.

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“It’s really, really not how I wanted this race to end, and not how I wanted this boat to end, but it is what it is,” said Simpson, who chronicled the race in real time using an onboard Starlink satellite connection. “Live to fight another day. Given the scenario it’s the right decision. Doesn’t make it any easier though. It’s not even bittersweet it’s really just all bitter.”

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The advent of Starlink has drastically altered the nature of ocean sailing, making it far safer. When he lost his mast, he was able to alert the world of his predicament. Race officials, loved ones, social media followers and officials, in both Argentina and the U.S., were instantly made aware of his dire situation. In a frustrating quirk, however, none of the nearby commercial vessels could be reached in the hours after the mishap, even as Simpson posted updates on social media.

Had the Sakizaya Youth reached Simpson after sundown, the rescue would have been more dangerous and the sea conditions worse. Simpson confirmed he was aboard the ship just before 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Monday. The ship is bound for Argentina and is expected to reach port in a few days.

Simpson left the start line in Spain on Oct. 29, separating from the pack as he rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Nearly in the homestretch of the solo around-the-world race, Simpson had successfully passed the three major capes and sailed through the most challenging portion of the race — the Southern Ocean. He was not in contention to win or even take second place, but he had a lead of a few days on his nearest competitor, despite having taken a four-day pit stop in Tasmania just after Christmas to make repairs.

That pit stop cost him a chance to contend for second place (currently held by fellow American Cole Brauer), and it might have also been the difference in getting caught in the weather that ultimately took him out of the race. Back in the Atlantic Ocean, the race should have become easier, and for a few days it did as he enjoyed some light-wind conditions. But he was constantly fighting the changing weather.

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He was nearly into the clear Sunday night, racing in heavy weather to outrun a ferocious, incoming low-pressure system that promised to bring even bigger seas and winds in excess of 60 knots. He had to balance two competing concerns: to get north quickly into safer waters and more reliable wind, and to also sail with restraint so as not to damage his boat.

When he lost his mast, he was sailing as conservatively as possible, with a small headsail and a vastly reduced mainsail. Still, he reported that he was constantly launching off waves and slamming hard into troughs. After one particularly violent landing, he heard the sound of his mast and boom hitting the deck. He found his rigging hanging by cables in the water. He was forced to cut the mast away so it would not puncture the hull and sink the boat.

With that decision, he lost the opportunity to construct a jury rig so that he might be able to save the boat and sail it to a safe port. Even if he could, he would have to contend with a vicious storm. The decision to call for rescue, hard as it was emotionally, was easy to calculate.

It’s just a really emotional and very upsetting end to this journey,” he said on social media before he saw his boat for the last time. “But it will all make sense at some point.”

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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