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Lucky yacht Puffin refloated after hitting a beach

by Lee Mylchreest on 11 Mar 2011
Puffin on the beach and the tide is falling SW
Don't you just love a good news story? ... and with a spate of tragic stories littering the world of the cruising sailor, here's a tale to warm the cockles of your heart.

A yacht called Puffin, with two crew had a lucky escape this week after being swept onto a beach.

The boat was amazingly refloated, owing to some swift action by bystanders and rescuers, and a large dollop of luck.

The incident happened near Sovereign Harbour in Sussex, but it could have been on a beach near you..


The drama started when the 42 foot yacht suffered engine failure at Langney Point shortly after it had come round Beachy Head on its way to Sovereign Harbour.

The experienced couple on board decided to attempt a difficult manoeuvre, in the prevailing weather conditions, by entering the outer harbour under sail. They contacted the harbour lock keeper via VHF radio to arrange a workboat to take them into the locks.

Fortunately, this communication alerted Mark Sawyer, coxswain of Eastbourne Royal National Lifesaving Institution (RNLI), who was able to monitor the yacht’s progress.

Mark was in the boathouse and became concerned when he realised Puffin was too close to the shoreline. He made contact with the couple and advised them to head out to sea. However, despite their experience, they were unable to battle against the wind and tide and were swept onto the beach.

Mark ordered an immediate launch of Eastbourne’s all-weather lifeboat, which was quickly on scene.

The strong winds and surf had embedded the Puffin's keel firmly into the shingle and it was stuck fast in the falling tide. The Inshore Lifeboat was also launched to assist in the rescue of the yacht.

A towline was passed to the stricken yacht from the all-weather lifeboat and attached by volunteer crew members from the Inshore Lifeboat who had swum ashore.

Bob Jeffery from Eastbourne’s RNLI said, 'Time was running out to salvage the vessel, within minutes the tide would have left it high and dry and there would have been no alternative but to abandon it to the elements until the next high tide, which would not have been until 2am on Monday.

'In consultation with the yacht’s skipper it was decided to make one attempt to re-float the vessel.'

The attempt was successful with both lifeboat crews and helpful members of the public on the beach pulling together (no doubt with a lot of huffin' and puffin') to rescue the yacht and the couple.

Mr Jeffery said, 'It was a group effort, reminiscent of times gone by when the whole community got involved in the launch of a lifeboat.'

He also said there was a very small window of opportunity to save the vessel and explained the prompt action of lifeboat coxswain Mark Sawyer and the help of the public had ensured the outcome was not more serious.

This dramatic rescue came in the same week as the RNLI celebrated its 187th birthday, a fitting reminder of just how much cruising sailors need to value and appreciate the rescuers in our lives.

The last time Sail-World Cruising heard of a boat being refloated once imbedded in a beach was when solo sailing adventurer Donna Lange rescued her boat with the help of passers-by on the coastline of New Carolina.
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