Air Apparent - the little yacht that just kept sailing

Air Apparent drift over the 14 month period
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Air Apparent, the small yacht abandoned off the north coast of New Zealand last year when the crew mutinied and set off a distress beacon, has been recovered by fishermen in north Queensland. It has taken more than a year to sail the distance alone.

The yacht was abandoned during a coastal trip in April last year when inexperienced crewmen grew alarmed in rising seas and set off the beacon in defiance of owner/skipper Bill Heritage. A helicopter was sent from Auckland, and Mr Heritage said he had no option but to abandon the boat with the three crewmen.

A full seven months later the little(7.0m) sailboat, unaided, had made it to Norfolk Island, where it was reported by the French Navy patrol ship La Moqueuse on a trip from Noumea to Nelson. It had made it alone 800 nm from where it was abandoned. The captain of the French vessel, Lieutenant Laurent Saunois, said the yacht was like a 'ghost ship'.

'When we found it, we called out, but nobody came. You always get a strange sensation when you find a boat like that, like something bad has happened,' Lieutenant Saunois said.

Air Apparent crew after rescue - Skipper Bill Heritage left with John Lammin
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ow, an incredible fourteen months after it was abandoned on March 25, 2008, Air Apparent has been taken in tow by fishermen from the small north Queensland sugar town of Bowen.

Mr Heritage says the boat is 'rather the worse for wear. Water has got into the cabin since the hatch was left open.

'It is remarkable that she is still afloat after more than 13 months adrift,' he told insurance News

The insurer is understood to be discussing salvage with the fishermen.

If there was ever any doubt about the seaworthiness of this little sailing boat, or the unreality of the fears of the three crew who mutinied, this discovery should put that to rest.

At the time the mutiny and rescue set off a storm of controversy in both New Zealand and Australia. Sail-World printed some of the comments. See,-but-was-it-Justified?/43113!story.


After the publication of this article above, Sail-World received the following letter from the designer of the boat. If ever there was a designer (together with the builder) who needs commendation, it's the designer and builder of Air Apparent. Here's the letter:

Sender: Hal Wagstaff

Message: I believe 'Air Apparent'to be a Compass 790 yacht from my drawing board.

If that is so, and anyone wants to know more about the 790 design I'd be happy to hear from them. Scores of Compass 790's have been built and cruise and race in or near Auckland, NZ.

Whatever...'Cheers' to 'Air Apparent'.

Hal Wagstaff

Hal Wagstaff's email address is: