British sailors Leonard and Lisa Rorke didn't think they would survive when they had to take to their life raft in 25ft seas after the bulkhead on their yacht broke up in the middle of the Atlantic this week. One crew, Belgian sailor Henri Worthalter and Dexter the Jack Russell terrier also took to the life raft, but they were 'preparing to die.'
Blue Pearl - a ’near death’ rescue
After the yacht sank they had to constantly bail the life raft in the high seas, about 800nm off the coast of Bermuda.
Leonard Rorke, 55, was rescued from a liferaft, along with his wife Lisa Rorke, 50, Henri Worthalter, 29, and Dexter the Jack Russell, 3, after their 49ft (15m) yacht, Blue Pearl, sank. It had been badly battered during two days of Atlantic storms.
The group told the Guardian they had an electronic position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) in the liferaft that allowed the coastguard to direct ships toward their location.
'We were preparing to die,' said Rorke, who added that they were holding on 'for dear life' and having to patch up the raft amid poor visibility, 25ft waves and winds reaching about 40mph.
'We were bailing water. It was life and death. We're very grateful. We are very, very lucky,' he said in the recording of the rescue's debriefing.
He said: 'The last thing we did was step off into the life raft. Well, we didn't step off. We had to jump and hold for dear life.'
The ordeal ended about 12.30am after the Tilda Kosan, a 351ft tanker, diverted course from its planned trip to Mexico. It was one of three ships that answered to AMVER's call. The ship found the group after making three passes in dark, stormy conditions. It was about 36 miles away from the life raft when it first joined the search.
The US Coast Guard was notified on Thursday by the International Rescue Center after a message came in saying that people were in a liferaft and needed help. A call for assistance from any commercial ships in the vicinity was answered by the three ships which all diverted their course to aid in the search.
Rorke had high praise for the speed with which the coastguard reacted as the radio beacon which he was using only lasts for about 48 hours.
He also praised the crew of the Tilda Kosan, saying: 'They were 32 nautical miles away in the pitch black. They got the first position and they couldn't find us and they went back and they got the second position and a third position and then they actually travelled to our second position.'
Blue Pearl's rescuer, the Tilda Kosan
Rorke had high praise for the Coast Guard, which coordinated the rescue. 'They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. They didn't play around. They were super quick,' he said.
Time was of the essence. The radio beacon only lasts for about 48 hours.
'The presence and proper activation of the emergency position indicating radio beacon was instrumental in saving the crew members of the Blue Pearl,' Petty Officer James Hines, a search and rescue controller at the fifth District Command Centre in Portsmouth, said in a statement.
'This stresses the importance of a properly registered EPIRB, which provided us with an emergency point of contact and information on the boat.'
The Tilda Kosan plans to take the yacht's crew and Dexter the dog to Bermuda.
Message received from Leonard's (Len's) sister, Vanessa:
Sender: Vanessa Matthews (Rorke)
Message: I would just like to THANK YOU all who assisted in the rescue of my brother Len, his wife Lisa, crew member and Dexter their Jack Russell. Without your dedication and support, this would never have been possible. A big THUMBS UP and blessings to all concerned, you are all truly amazing people! God bless you all from Port Elizabeth, South Africa :)