The search began during early hours of Monday morning for missing skipper Roberto Varinelli, a compeitor in the Mini Transat solo transatlantic race. Sadly Varinelli has still not been found.
The proceedure began during Sunday when it was not possible to raise Varinelli on the VHF. Eventually Denis Hugues, the race director, requested that his boat be checked out by a spotter aircraft from the Portuguese rescue services. They flew over the area and at 16.30hrs reported that the boat was sailing but that no contact could be made with the skipper via VHF and no signs of life could be seen onboard.
A fishing vessel and cargo ship were requested to divert to carry out a closer inspection along with the race support vessel Iris. The Iris arrived on the scene at 0400 Monday morning and sent out a party on their Zodiac. Upon boarding the yacht they found all the skippers survival equipment intact including the liferaft, TPS survival suit and lifejacket.
This was not Roberto's first Mini Transat race; he competed in 1999 aboard a Pogo and was the only Italian to complete that tough edition to Guadaloupe in 18th place. A dentist by profession, he had long held the dream of crossing the Atlantic and started following the Mini scene in 1997. He was so taken by his achievement in 1999 that he decided to make the step up to a Rolland designed Prototype and had spent much time preparing himself and his boat for the 2001 race to Brazil.
Rarely without a 'Ciao' and a smile on his face, the pontoon will have a sad space in the future.
The race continues, but the mood amongst the competitors is down beat.
For the current race positions and latest news go to the event website.