Marine vet rescued after 10-hour wait in middle of Atlantic during around-the-world sailing race: ‘Live to fight another day’

Feb. 15, 2024

A US Marine Corps veteran in a race to sail around the world was forced to call for rescue at the risk of being stranded hundreds of miles off the coast of Argentina with a storm heading his direction after his boat suffered significant damage.

Ronnie Simpson, 38, activated his distressing beacon about 600 miles off the coast of Argentina in the South Atlantic Ocean Monday after his boat was launched off a wave and landed particularly violently in the water the previous night, causing the boat’s mast to break.

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Ronnie Simpson was holding third place in the Global Solo Challenge when he was forced to put in a distress call after his boat suffered damage out at sea.

Using a Starlink satellite connection from his boat, Simpson posted on his Instagram that morning that there was a “huge storm” heading his way — with winds of “over 50 knots” (57 mph) and swells of “like seven meters” (22 feet) heading his way.

“When you’re on a boat with no mast, there is like no stability,” he explained, saying he’d rather not risk seeing if his boat would hold up in the rough seas and it would be too difficult to repair the damage.

Simpson got in contact with the US Coast Guard and Argentinian Navy, who received his distress calls, but finding any ship close enough to rescue him took them hours.

Fortunately, as fear crept in that he may be trapped out in the storm, a Taiwanese vessel on its way from South Africa to Argentina was able to change course to scoop him out of the water.

Just an hour before he was saved, Simpson updated his followers again to share that he was in sight of the 750-foot Sakizaya Youth.

“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,” Simpson shared.

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His 1994 Open 50 racing boat mast had snapped while he was over 600 miles off the coast of Argentina.

“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.”

After anxiously waiting ten grueling hours with the sun already set on his location, the Iraq war veteran turned professional racing sailor was rescued.

“I learned a lot during this campaign and during this race, and I’m excited and optimistic to see what I can do with this hard-earned knowledge,” Simpson wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday, sharing a final view of his boat after being saved.

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Simpson waited ten hours to be rescued after activating his distress beacon.

Before calling for rescue, Simpson was holding third place in the Global Solo Challenge — a 26,000-nautical mile race around the world that started off the Galician coast of Spain on Oct. 29 last year.

He was the skipper of the Open 50 Shipyard Brewing, competing in the first-ever Global Solo Challenge, according to his website.

With an estimated time of finishing the race being around 130 days, Simpson was in the home stretch, having rounded the Cape Horn off Chile ten days earlier.

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He had completed about 75% of the race when he was forced to end the competition early.

“We are heartbroken for Captain Ron. It has been painful for us to watch this unfold. We can only imagine the pain he feels leaving behind the sailboat he’s lived on for the past 106 days,” Shipyard Brewing said in a statement.

“This has been devastating for Captain Ronnie as he put his full heart and soul into his bid to win the Global Solo Challenge.”

Simpson is expected to return to land in Argentina in a few days.

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Simpson started his journey on the Galician coast of Spain on Oct. 29 last year.

Though he did not finish the race due to uncontrollable circumstances, his story of how sailing saved his life is still inspiring.

A Hawaii native, Simpson joined the US Marine Corps at 18 and deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

Only 19 years young, he would be seriously wounded in action after an air blast from an RPG exploded near him while in combat.

The blast left him severely burnt and detached both of his retinas, causing him to become temporarily blind.

He was put in a medically induced coma by combat medics and flown out to Germany, but would only wake up 18 days later after arriving in Texas.

Following a lengthy recovery, he was honorably discharged and medically retired from the Marine Corps.

However, as he entered civilian life, Simpson struggled with PTSD from his time in combat.

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