14 crew of stricken yacht res­cued on high seas af­ter Royal Navy ship steams 500 miles in dra­matic rescue

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Paul Drury

FOUR­TEEN crew mem­bers of a Scots-based yacht were res­cued by a Royal Navy war­ship yesterday af­ter be­com­ing stranded in the storm-tossed waters of the North At­lantic.

A dra­matic op­er­a­tion was launched on Thurs­day night af­ter the 60-foot Clyde Chal­lenger is­sued a May­day dis­tress call as it tried to re­turn to Scot­land from a voy­age to the Caribbean.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the sig­nal on Thurs­day night, the UK Coast­guard dis­patched a Her­cules C130 air­craft from RAF Brize Nor­ton in Ox­ford­shire. US Air Force jets from RAF Milden­hall joined the search, while chem­i­cal tanker CPO Fin­land at­tempted to rescue the crew three times but was ham­pered by bad weather.

As the racing yacht drifted – it had lost its mast and its rud­der was dam­aged – the de­ci­sion was taken to di­vert the Type 45 Royal Navy de­stroyer HMS Dragon 500 miles from its lo­ca­tion to take charge of the rescue.

Trav­el­ling at 30 knots, the war­ship ar­rived at the yacht’s po­si­tion 610 miles south of Land’s End at 2.30pm yesterday. The del­i­cate op­er­a­tion to re­move the crew in Force 6 to 7 gales took sev­eral hours, though their ves­sel could not be saved. The 14 crew mem­bers, of whom all but one are UK na­tion­als, were said to be ‘alive and well’.

They were treated for mi­nor in­juries and given hot food and the chance to call their fam­i­lies once on board the ves­sel.

Petty Of­fi­cer Max Grosse, Chief Bo­sun’s Mate on board HMS Dragon, said: ‘When we ar­rived on scene it was clear the yacht had lost its mast and looked in a pretty des­per­ate state af­ter nearly 48 hours drift­ing in the chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

‘We were, how­ever, hugely re­lieved to see all 14 crew alive and well. De­spite racing through the night we only had three hours of day­light re­main­ing in which to safely re­move the crew.

‘HMS Dragon is fit­ted with two large sea boats ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing six pas­sen­gers each. We were able to use both boats to trans­fer the crew as quickly as pos­si­ble. The pre­vail­ing weather con­di­tions and no­to­ri­ous At­lantic swell made it enor­mously chal­leng­ing, though, and re­ally tested the skills of my ex­pe­ri­enced sea boat coxswains.’

The Chal­lenger, which is nor­mally berthed in the Firth of Clyde, was mak­ing for Kirkcud­bright Ma­rina on leg two of the Ul­ti­mate At­lantic Challenge, a voy­age which be­gan at Jolly Har­bour in An­tigua in early Jan­uary. The ves­sel, owned by Lewis Learn­ing Ltd, was de­signed and built to com­pete in the Clip­per round-the-world yacht race and is also used for cor­po­rate, pri­vate and char­ity char­ters, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

Up­dates on the travel com­pany’s Face­book page said the crew re­ported a prob­lem with the yacht’s rud­der late on Thurs­day evening and steer­ing was af­fected.

Friends and fam­ily used Twit­ter to send mes­sages to the stricken sailors. Tracey Lester, the mother of one of the crew­men, tweeted: ‘Over­whelmed with grat­i­tude for the safe trans­fer of crew, in­clud­ing our son, Gordon.

‘The as­sis­tance given from other ves­sels, coast­guards, RAF, ground up­dates and navy has been re­mark­able, thank you all.’

Me­gan Wil­liams wrote: ‘Think­ing of you all. Please just come back home safely and ASAP.’

The se­cond leg from the Azores to Scot­land was ad­ver­tised to prospec­tive pas­sen­gers for £295 per per­son. De­scrib­ing the more dif­fi­cult leg in the colder waters of the North At­lantic, the yacht’s web­site said: ‘While this may in­tro­duce more chal­lenges, it also makes this one of the most re­ward­ing sail­ing trips you will ever un­der­take.’

A state­ment from the own­ers last night said: ‘We are de­lighted to re­port that a UK Navy ves­sel has suc­cess­fully trans­ferred all 14 crew mem­bers from Clyde Chal­lenger.

‘We are ex­tremely grate­ful for this news and ex­tend huge thanks to all those in­volved.’

SOS: The navy boats, top, ap­proach the Clyde Chal­lenger as its crew wait to be taken off. Above, HMS Dragon whose dash saved the day

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