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