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British Crew Member Dies in Clipper Round the World Race

LONDON - A British crew member of a yacht taking part in the Clipper Round the World race has died after an accident off the coast of Portugal, his team said Saturday.

Paramedic Andrew Ashman, 49, was reefing a sail on the IchorCoal entry around midnight on Friday during the first leg from London to Brazil when he was knocked unconscious.

"We are deeply saddened to report the death of crew member Mr. Andrew Ashman, our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time," a statement posted on the official website of the race said.

Image: Clipper Round The World Yacht Race
The Qindao (right) and Derry-Londonderry-Doire racing yachts sail past London's Tower Bridge the day before the race started. Carl Court / Getty Images

It added: "Andy was knocked unconscious by the mainsheet and possibly the boom (although not confirmed). He was given immediate medical assistance and attempted resuscitation but failed to regain consciousness."

The yacht was diverting to Porto in northern Portugal and was expected to arrive on Sunday.

An investigation has been launched, organizers said.

RELATED: Clipper Round the World Yacht Race: 'Human Will Against Nature'

The 40,000-nautical mile race offers crewing places to members of the public even without previous sailing experience, although Ashman was described as an experienced yachtsman. It began in London on Aug 30.

The 12 teams in the race each have a professional skipper to head up their identical 70-foot Clipper boats.

Eight Americans are taking place in the race. Among them is a 68-year-old band teacher from Texas, and a retired fire captain from California.

Texan Linda McDavitt is the oldest woman in the race, and will celebrate her 69th birthday on the water. She prepared by doing pilates and pole-dancing classes.

"You're never too old to do anything you want, you just have to have the spirit," she told NBC News. "Just get out there and do it!"