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Four days adrift but 'no thanks' to rescue helicopter

by Nancy Knudsen/round up on 9 Jan 2012
Helimed 2 - knocked back for a lift SW
It's refreshing to hear a tale of cruising sailors who don't panic and knocked back a lift from a rescue helicopter. Reports have reached Sail-World of a ketch called Cheval de Mer with ripped sails and no motor, which has been for four days (since last Thursday) drifting off the west coast of the Northland of New Zealand with three crew on board waiting for the weather to improve so they could ask for a tow to safety.

No, they didn't abandon the yacht, even though a helicopter rescue was offered, but the weather was too rough for them to be towed, so they were simply waiting, seemingly happily. Sounds like an experienced, calm crew of sailors, who merely wanted the rescue authorities to know where they were.

The mainstream press has recorded that two of the three crew were over 65, although the significance of that, given that a huge percentage of successful cross-ocean sailors are over 65, is obviously something that excites the mainstream press only.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Christchurch sent the winch-capable Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) rescue helicopter Helimed 2 to look for the yacht about 8.30pm on Saturday after picking up a signal from an emergency beacon.

NEST pilot Russell Procter said the 12-metre ketch named Cheval de Mer was located about 10 nautical miles west of the Kaipara Harbour entrance.

'When we arrived overhead in the dark they had been drifting for three days with no motor and with their sails torn,' he said. The radio on the ketch had limited battery power, but it was sufficient to communicate with the helicopter.

Two men on board had 'sounded professional' and were in good spirits when spoken to, Mr Procter said. 'They wanted a tow to shore. We let them know the rescue centre had said no towboat was coming and offered to winch them up on to the helicopter, but they decided to stay on the yacht,' he said - as you should do when your life is not in danger.

Mr Procter said the Rescue Co-ordination Centre contacted NEST at 9am yesterday with a request to take a battery-powered high frequency marine radio out to the stricken yacht. The rescue authorities were certainly taking good care of their potential rescuees. NEST's chief pilot, Pete Turnbull, had made up a 'comfort pack' of oranges, chocolate and other food to be dropped to the sailors along with a charged mobile telephone and instructions on activating their emergency beacon at specific times so a towboat could locate them when conditions allowed one to be sent out.

Mr Procter said when the yacht was found it had drifted about 10 nautical miles further out to sea from its position on Saturday night. The comfort pack and equipment was dropped to the ketch and the helicopter returned to Whangarei.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Ross Henderson said the yacht's emergency beacon had been activated about 7.30pm on Saturday and, because it was unregistered, it had taken a while to identify the vessel which was the source of the signal. (Negative points to the yacht crew for not registering their EPIRB)

Along with Helimed 2, the Rescue Co-ordination Centre had asked the Kaipara Coastguard to go out to the yacht, but conditions were too rough for the Coastguard boat to tackle the trip.

'The Coastguard tried again yesterday morning, but it was too rough then too,' Mr Henderson said. He said the crew of the yacht was comfortable with their situation.

'Now that the helicopter has dropped communications equipment to them, we will keep in touch with them and send out the Coastguard or another vessel to give them a tow when conditions improve,' he said.

So no helicopter's crew will be risking their lives to rescue the sailors, and the boat has the best chance of being brought home safely.
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