by Des Ryan
A rescuer and a sailing crew member have lost their lives when the 10m German yacht Meri Tuuli tried unsuccessfully to enter Portugal's Figueira da Foz river bar late afternoon, and broached in 5m breaking waves. The boat was dismasted and both the yacht and the rescue RIB ended up on the nearby Cabedelo Beach. The rescuer who died was a member of Policia Maritima - Portugal's Maritime Police. Four crew were rescued, while six, including two rescuers, were hospitalised.
Portugal sailing tragedy - Meri Tuuli, which approached the river bar late afternoon through breaking water
The accident occurred about 200 kilometers north of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, Wednesday night. The two confirmed deaths are a 47-year-old crew member of the sailboat which was flying a German flag and a member of the Maritime Police who was 41, according to a Maritime Police statement.
'The distress signal was given at around 6 p.m. (0500 GMT) Wednesday via another sailing boat that was in the vicinity, and the maritime agency of the Port of Figueira da Foz launched a rescue mission shortly afterwards, using a speedboat and a jet ski from the lifeguard station at Figueira da Foz with the support of a Maritime Police speed boat,' according to the Maritime Police.
When the rescuers arrived the boat was already dismasted and in the breaking water zone.
The Maritime Police agency said that, 'During the rescue operation we experienced very rough conditions at the site and the Maritime Police vessel eventually capsized and three officers fell into the water.'
'Five crew members of the sailboat and the three Maritime Police officers were rescued from the water, however a crew member and a member of the Maritime Police were pronounced dead on the beach,' said a Maritime Police spokesperson.
'It is understood that of the remaining crew of the sailboat, two sustained traumatic injuries, and the other two survivors and two Marine Police officers have symptoms of hypothermia,' the spokesperson said.
The rescue operation, which completed almost at midnight Wednesday, involved elements of the Maritime Police, volunteer firefighters from the town of Figueira da Foz, National Institute of Medical Emergency (INEM), the Red Cross, local police and a Civil Protection helicopter.
The ramifications of the news for the cruising sailor is an age-old lesson. No matter how badly you'd like to get into port, when the weather turns foul, head to sea, not to port, and especially when night is approaching. A nearby safe port (for entering at night) was Peniche, eight or nine hours away and even closer was Nazare, a mere four hours away. The crew simply made a bad - tragic - call.
Thank you to Luis Salvador for his contribution to this article.