Tragedy strikes

Davidson 50 Finistere, capsized during the Bunbury and Return Ocean Race on Friday night.

27 February 2018


The sailing community in Western Australia remains in mourning after the loss of two of the six crew on board Finistere. Skipper and owner Rob Thomas and crewman Paul Owens were confirmed dead, following a rescue during the early hours of Saturday 25 of February.

Two other yachts competing in the race, Huckleberry and Fourth Dimension, along with the RAC Rescue helicopter arrived at the scene about 12.30 am and rescued five of the six Finistere crew from the water, including Mr Owens. Sadly he could not be revived.

An extensive search involving six aircraft and 10 vessels then took place for Mr Thomas, whose body was recovered at about 12.30 pm on Saturday afternoon.

Difficult sea conditions hampered the search. The weather was described as south easterly winds, 15 to 20 knots, with rough one to two metre seas.


RFBYC Commodore Dean McAullay said the club offered its heartfelt condolences to the men’s families and friends.

“Our club would like to acknowledge and thank all of those involved in the successful rescue of four members of the yacht Finistere in the early hours of Saturday morning,” Mr McAullay said. “The quick response and professionalism of the search and rescue authorities ensured the safe return of the four sailors.

“We also extend our sincere thanks to the skippers and crews of the yachts Huckleberry, Fourth Dimension and Circa who, on request, directly supported the search and rescue efforts. Our sailing community is small and tight-knit. A tragedy such as this is felt deeply by many. Our thoughts are with the members of Fremantle Sailing Club and the wider sailing community.”

Australian Sailing and Yachting Western Australian, on behalf of the sailing community, offered their condolences to the families and friends of Rob Thomas and Paul Owens.

Matt Allen, President of Australian Sailing also expressed the feelings of many sailors saying, “I’m sure I speak for all of our members in offering our sympathies to the families and friends of Rob and Paul, who were lost on the weekend. Our thoughts are also with their four crew and to all those who assisted in the rescue, particularly fellow competitors who were quickly on the scene.

“We also express our thanks for the outstanding work of the many volunteers from the local Clubs, emergency services, search and maritime authorities who worked tirelessly over the weekend”, Matt added.

President of Yachting WA Mark Fitzhardinge said both men were experienced and respected sailors, “Rob and Paul were great friends to many here in the west, and will be sorely missed.  At Fremantle Sailing Club, Rob was Vice Commodore and had been an engaged member of the Club and contributed over many years.  Paul has been sailing for many years and we mourn his passing.  Sailing is a strong community and will pull together to help the Clubs and their members during this sad time”.

The race was a Category 3 event, meaning all sailors should have had personal beacons on them that would set off a signal when they hit the water. By the rules, they all should have been wearing life jackets and been tethered to the yacht.

Water Police and the Department of Transport are investigating the deaths and why the boat’s wooden keel snapped mid-race.

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