The United States Coast Guard has suspended its search for a missing Chinese mariner who set sail from San Francisco last week to claim a new world record for crossing the Pacific Ocean on his own.
Fifty-year-old Guo Chuan, China’s first and only professional offshore sailor, was last heard from on Tuesday as his 97-foot super trimaran Qingdao China sailed about 1,000 kilometers off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
An airborne crew overflew the vessel on Tuesday afternoon but was unable to hail Guo, who did not appear on deck. A boarding team from the USS Makin Island, diverted to assist the Coast Guard, confirmed on Wednesday that Guo was not in the cabin and only his lifejacket remained onboard.
What happened aboard the Qingdao China remains unclear. Guo’s shore team have suggested that he may have been pulled overboard trying to recover a headsail that fell into the water after the halyard broke—a risky manoeuvre that may have required him to unhook his safety lifeline in order to change his position on the foredeck. When it was found, the yacht’s mainsail was still hoisted with the gennaker dragging in the water.
Guo had previously said that his greatest fear was to fall in the water, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, citing him as saying: “I fear being separated from the ship when I am sailing solo.”
An aeronautic engineer by training, Guo first discovered sailing at the age of 33 when he boarded a friend’s keelboat in Hong Kong. Despite his relatively late start, Guo became a national hero when he became the first Chinese sailor to circumnavigate the globe singlehanded in 2013, claiming a new world record in his class. Last year, he set another world record by becoming the first skipper to complete Russia’s Northern Sea Route non-stop.
In a statement, Captain Robert Hendrickson of the US Coast Guard called Guo “a professional mariner with a deep passion for sailing,” extending “our deepest condolences not only to his family and friends but also to his racing team and the sailing community.
The Qingdao China remains adrift, with the mainsail doused and the vessel marked as a potential hazard to navigation. Guo’s racing team is making arrangements to recover the boat.
By Ryan Kilpatrick