A young New Zealand sailor on a round-the-world ocean race has told how he plucked his British co-skipper from the Southern Ocean after he fell overboard into freezing, towering swells.

Wellingtonian Conrad Colman, 28, and Briton Sam Goodchild, 22, were leading the second leg of the Global Ocean Race from Cape Town to Wellington when the wind began to pick up off the west coast of the South Island.

Mr Goodchild, who had been cooking in the galley, was washed off the 12m Cessna Citation without a lifejacket as he had rushed to help change sails for a 30-knot wind.

"[The wave] had a big crest which was about to break and it was going to hit us pretty hard ... I tried to hang on, but it threw me out the side and I landed on the jib and made a few attempts to grab stuff, but nothing successful," Mr Goodchild told the Global Ocean Race's website.


Mr Colman immediately threw him a heaving line but the yacht's movement pulled it out of his colleague's reach.

The Kiwi co-skipper activated a man-overboard alert to mark the spot Mr Goodchild fell, and began to plan the difficult return tack.

Coping with half-changed sails and gusty winds, he said that at this point he thought of his father, who died in a boating accident when Mr Colman was 11 months old.

"When I first tacked the boat back round I made a very conscious promise that I wasn't going to let Sam be alone out there."

Meanwhile, Mr Goodchild prepared for a long wait in the sea, bobbing in bitterly cold 5m swells.

"At first, I thought it was fine and he'd just turn around and pick me up. But it slowly started dawning on me as 10 minutes passed that he hadn't tacked yet and I couldn't see him and he certainly couldn't see me."

Weighed down by heavy thermal clothing, he began to cut his layers from his body with a knife.

Mr Colman turned the Class 40 boat around, but was struggling to sail it while also running downstairs to check his charts for the spot where Mr Goodchild fell.

After several passes he finally saw the yellow flash of Mr Goodchild's hood amid the waves.

He threw a horseshoe-shaped lifebuoy, before tacking back again and pulling the Englishman in, desperately, with a rope that was still attached to one of the sails.

"I think it was the happiest moment of our lives," Mr Colman said, after an ordeal that lasted around 25 minutes.

A day later, the Cessna Citation crossed the finish line at Wellington Harbour in first place, completing the 12,000km leg in 30 days.

Mr Goodchild said the result paled in significance to his rescue.

"It was a harsh lesson and one I will never forget. You hear these stories and think, well that's a bit stupid, but that's not going to be me, which is a bit arrogant.

"It only takes a second for something to turn into a big disaster and I'll be clipping on in future."