Merchant Vessels Rescue Three Yacht Crews in Storm
On Friday and Saturday, three yacht crews participating in the OSTAR / TWOSTAR transatlantic race required rescue by merchant vessels after severe weather in the North Atlantic damaged or disabled their vessels. The Canadian Coast Guard coordinated a successful response and all were saved without harm.
Single-handed sailor Mervyn Wheatley (73) was saved by the crew of the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 after the storm knocked down his boat, the 37-foot yacht Tamarind, and broke in a porthole. Wheatley radioed for help and attempted to keep back the rising water inside the cabin; he told the BBC that he plugged the porthole with a cushion and pumped out as fast as possible, but the flooding worsened despite his efforts. An aircraft of the Canadian Coast Guard flew over about three hours after his distress call, and the QM2 was on scene shortly thereafter. Wheatley agreed to abandon his stricken yacht and he pulled the seacocks before leaving her behind. He thanked the QM2's boat crew for their skill in handling their small craft in steep waves.
"He is very, very grateful to be on board with us," said the Queen Mary's captain. "And I think he will now enjoy a more comfortable cruise to Halifax than on his 38-foot yacht."
Separately, the Dutch crew of the Sun Fast 37 Happy called for rescue after their mast was damaged, and the anchor handling tug Alp Forward diverted to assist. The two crewmembers were both evacuated. The offshore support/response tug Thor Magni rescued the Bulgarian crew of the Luffe 37 Furia, which was so damaged by the storm that she later sank. Later, the skipper of the yacht Illumia reported "keel problems," according to race organizers; he was rescued by a helicopter of the Canadian Air Force and brought to St. John's.
"When people are in distress, everybody willingly comes to help," said Canadian Coast Guard spokeswoman Major Rhonda Stevens, speaking to the Canadian Press. "Rescuers showed their heroism and their passion for working on the sea and their skills, and they were able to save the lives of those people that were in distress."
Sustained Force 12 winds with waves of 10-15 meters (30-50 feet) created a dangerous situation for all of the race participants. In addition to the life-threatening damage to the Happy, Tamarind, Illumia and Furia, the vessels Harmonii and Suomi Kuku suffered torn sails, and the Harmonii was forced to retire from the race. Race organizer John Lewis said that the weather conditions were the worst "we've had over this period."
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