British yachtsman killed in freak race accident after boat mast snaps and falls on him

A wealthy British yachtsman has been killed in a freak accident when the mast of his classic boat snapped and fell on him during a race off the French coast.

Retired planning lawyer Wilf Tolhurst, 64, suffered fatal head injuries when his yacht collided with another on the opening day of the Regates Royales festival in the Bay of Cannes.

The other seven crew members of his 50ft yacht Safir including his son Julian, 35, were hurled into the sea or jumped overboard, and were all rescued.

Boats are seen in the Bay of Cannes

The Bay of Cannes where today's first race was cancelled as a mark of respect to British yachtsman Wilf Tolhurst who was killed by his own boat mast

Mr Tolhurst's son and the crew of a rescue boat tried in vain to revive him, but he is thought to have died instantly.

His wife Ann was on shore when the accident happened in 20-knot winds yesterday.

The couple who also have a daughter Katharine, 37, lived in Langham near Colchester, Essex.

Mr Tolhurst was a keen sailor who kept his 8-Metre class yacht Safir at the Suffolk Yacht Harbour in Levington, Suffolk.

The yacht which was built in Sweden in 1930 was taken to the south of France on a low-loader so he could compete in the annual regatta.

Mr Tolhurst who was at the helm reportedly tried to steer away from another British yacht - the 65-ft Rowdy - which had the right of way.

The 35-ton yacht owned by British America's Cup boss and Admiral's Cup team captain Graham Walker was unable to avoid Safir.

Mr Tolhurst's son-in-law Charles Warburton, 38, said: 'He took a last minute decision to make an emergency tack.

'The other boat was pretty much on Safir and brought the mast down when her bowsprit went between the mast and the forestay. He was hit on the head by the mast and killed.

'It is a terrible tragedy because he was so fit and healthy - but at least he died doing something he really loved.'

Mr Tolhurst also ran a property investment firm with his son and had a passion for horses. He had several horses and was a steward at point-to-point meetings.

His wife requested that the 168-boat regatta continue after his death, but the first race today was cancelled as a mark of respect.

Mr Tolhurst had also been chairman of the Dedham Vale Society for around ten years and led the group's campaigns to preserve the beauty of countryside in the area immortalised by painter John Constable.

Society president Robert Erith said: 'His death is a devastating blow and he will be very much missed. He was a quite outstanding chairman and a close personal friend.'

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