Friend's sadness over skipper's death

TRIBUTES have today been paid to a much loved skipper who died in a yachting accident off the French coast.

Naomi Cassidy

TRIBUTES have today been paid to a much loved skipper who died in a yachting accident off the French coast.

Wilfrid Tolhurst, who was the chairman of the Dedham Vale Society and a popular member of the community, was killed during a famous yacht race in Cannes yesterday.

Mr Tolhurst, who lived in Langham near Dedham and was in his mid-60s, owned and skippered the eight metre yacht, Safir, which was kept at the Suffolk Yacht Harbour in Levington.

Today Robert Erith, president of the club, spoke poignantly about the loss of his “very good friend”.

He said: “It is a devastating blow for the society as he was a brilliant chairman. He was a wonderful man and a very good friend of mine.

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“He will be very much missed. He believed in the society very strongly. His skills as a planning lawyer were exactly right for that particular job. He had wisdom and understanding of the issues.

“He was retired but was a man of many interests. This was a very special person. I'm still in shock about what has happened.

“Our first thoughts are with his wife Anne, his children and his grandchildren.”

The Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai, an annual event which sees the major classic yachts in the Mediterranean gather together, began yesterday.

Safir, the eight metre class yacht, was competing in the coastal race yesterday afternoon when it was in collision with another yacht, Rowdy, causing its mast to break off.

Mr Tolhurst was struck by the falling mast and although the Race Committee, the maritime safety crew and another rescue crew reacted quickly to bring the skipper ashore, nothing could be done to save his life.

A police enquiry is currently under way to determine the cause of the incident.

A message on the Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai website reads: “The Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai mourns the sad loss of a skipper. All the organisers of the Yacht Club de Cannes, together with the sponsors and sailors join to support the family through these very difficult moments.”

As a mark of respect, the first race today was cancelled.

The yacht Safir was originally designed and built in Sweden in 1930 where she remained until 2004 when she was bought by Mr Tolhurst and brought to the Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington.

The Dedham Vale Society seeks to protect surrounding countryside. In 2005 the group won a battle in the High Court against the Civil Aviation Authority regarding the nuisance caused by over-flying aircrafts. At the time Mr Tolhurst said he was “delighted” at the news.

Did you know Mr Tolhurst and want to pay tribute to him? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail