Rescue on The High Seas



** B R E A K I N G ** N E W S **

News just in from far north Queensland of the incredible efforts of crew on the high seas to save one yacht from being lost at sea.

Boats involved in this mayday situation included a Nordhavn 47 called Southern Star (Rob and Jo), a Bavari 40ft Ocean yacht named Oda (Per and Elizabeth) and a Dutch built Koopmans 48ft called Stormvogel (Peter and Heidi).

Three boats, on one vast ocean, as they travelled together from Port Villa, Vanuatu to Cairns, far north Queensland which is a run of approx. 1,300nms.  Thirteen hundred long lonely nautical miles with only each other for company and, as it turned out, only each other (and one container ship) for survival.

On June 22nd the yacht Stormvogel informed yacht Oda that it had a problem and was taking on water at an alarming rate.  In fact, there was so much water that the floor in the saloon became the new mark.  The flow rate was estimated by crew on board at around 20ltrs per minute. With sinking a very, very real possibility the crew aboard Stormvogel focused on trying to find the leak and finding it fast.  Meanwhile Oda called Southern Star (Nordhavn) via sat phone to turn around and make haste for their position.

 

rescue at sea
rescue at sea

Stormvogel continued to concentrate on finding and stopping the leak, when Oda, after agreement with Stormvogel took responsibility to contact the appropriate rescue organisations.  Oda decided that the first call would be to the Norwegian Rescue Centre Hovedredningssentralen in Stavanger, Norway.  The reason for this is the crew of Oda had made agreements with them before starting their circumnavigation if anything were to happen that they could call on them for support and coordination, to which they had agreed.

After a short time had passed, Stormvogel found the leak which was around the yachts centre-board, which frustratingly had been newly maintained in New Zealand just a few months earlier. From what the crew could see there were three or four bolts that were broken and centre-board was moving freely like it should never be allowed to do.  After some time the crew aboard Stormvogel succeeded in stabilizing the moving centre-board with a piece of wood.

Southern Star at this stage was still some 25nm away but making good speed towards the yacht Stormvogel and Oda.

EPIRB ACTIVATED - After agreement with the Australian and Norwegian rescue organisations the epirb on Stormvogel was activated. 

At this stage the Norwegian rescue service warned both Oda and Southern Star not to go on board Stormvogel under the circumstances as with unfavourable sea conditions and a very black night it was not advised nor deemed safe.  What the crew aboard both Southern Star and Oda were advised to do was to prepare to take on a few extra guests as the likelihood was, that Stormvogel would sink.

Oda prepared for getting the crew from Stormvogel on board safely if the situation, which was hanging by a thread at this stage, got any worse when all of a sudden the radio beckoned with a message from the Norwegian rescue service advising that a cargo ship was altering course and making way.  The cargo ship could be expected in a few hours and an aeroplane at first light. Oda replied great and then suggested maybe a helicopter was better to which a reply of, “you are too far from land for that”, echoed the stark reality of the situation.

After an hour or so had passed the skipper of Stormvogel informed everyone that they had succeeded in controlling the water flow by mounting a new electrical pump in the bilge.  They also now felt they had some control of the problem and some chance of saving Stormvogel.  That being said, the skipper was also very concerned that the centre-board could collapse at any stage and with it spell the end of his much loved yacht.  Things remained very much 50/50 and all anyone could do was hope for the best.

With Southern Star now on scene with a bigger dingy that could take on the 1.5m / 6ft seas and 20kt winds everyone felt a little calmer.  The water was controlled, a dingy was on hand if required, a cargo ship was on its way and a plane, with supplies ready to be dropped would be on scene at first light – things were looking up. 

With the hours moving past slower than Christmas Eve for a child the crews aboard all three boats spoke of the alternatives available and all agreed on waiting until daylight to go on-board Stormvogel to help assess the damage and help do what they could to save her.  The crew aboard Stormvogel monitored the situation very carefully overnight and were totally exhausted as fatigue took hold.

rescue at sea
rescue at sea
 

The night was tense and all three crews maintained radio contact every two hours and visual contact at all times throughout the long and lonely night.  

At this point and as the situation had settled somewhat Australian Rescue suggested the EPIRB be deactivated which is precisely what was done.

Southern Star’s crew (Rob and Jo Ashton) managed the next morning in what were dangerous conditions to un-load their dingy and get Rob, their skipper on-board and if that wasn’t enough Rob then motored over to Oda to collect its skipper as well before heading for Stormvogel.

At around 0900 to skippers entered Stormvogel to assess the damage and remained there working until the containership finally appeared at around 1400. 

 

rescue at sea
rescue at sea

As the three Skippers thought about ideas to stabilize the yacht the idea from Stormvogel’s friend in Germany (Wolfgang) to use cement/concrete to stabilize the centre-board was discussed.  Great lets try it but where on earth do we get cement from out here they all thought?  The idea of using cement would also add strength to the hardwood already being used to hold the centre-board in place so they were keen to explore their options and as such, this idea was conveyed to the folks at Australian Rescue who in turn passed the message onto the container ship which just so happened to have cement on board!  They also thought it was a good idea and made sense.

With Rob at the controls of Southern Stars dingy and a 185m/700ft container ship close by the cement (2 x 60kgs bags of the stuff) was lowered into the tender in a precision manoeuvre which is a credit to all involved.  Figure this, no sleep, high levels of stress and tension, being within inches of a 700ft ship – simply remarkable. 

rescue at sea
rescue at sea

With cement transferred to Stormvogel and the idea working out in practice just fine it was decided that the trip would continue and they would make the final push to Cairns together and arrive as one.  On June 28th all three boats arrived safely in the port of Cairns with not only a renewed respect for what can go wrong but also on hell of a story to tell.

 

rescue at sea
rescue at sea

I am in awe of what these folks achieved in what would have been difficult conditions.  The idea of cement was the stroke of genius that no doubt saved Stormvogel.  The comradeship of the three crews is testament to those who go to sea.  The willingness of the container ship captain to render assistance is to be applauded and the crews of all three boats should be congratulated for their efforts to work as one to resolve a very difficult problem.

One always wonders how one would react in a situation like this and I guess one never knows until tested – for the crews of Southern Star, Stormvogel and Oda this question has now been answered.

 

rescue at sea
rescue at sea

Further first-hand accounts of the incident can be found at the following three blogs.

http://sy-oda.blogspot.com/2014/06/drama-in-coral-sea-226-236-2014.html

http://www.wiedekamm.com/2014/06/23/stormvogel-mayday/

http://www.southernstarnz.com/

 

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