Many leisure sailors admit to wondering how they would behave if they found themselves in a serious situation at sea, but at the same time, we don't really want to have to find out. Three New Zealand sailors, Pete Deakin, Bill Claque and Richard Hope did just that last week and came up trumps (See Sail-World story?nid=92759). Here now is the account of what happened on board during that tough journey.
The Yacht Cheval de Mer (Seahorse) was caught in gale force winds which shredded some of their sails, leaving them with only a working jury-rigged headsail. As chance would have it, their engine had already broken down. Skipper Pete Deakin told the NZ Herald that he 'never felt so near to becoming shipwrecked'.
Before the trouble began, the Cheval de Mer was being brought up the west coast of the North Island around North Cape to a berth at the eastern Bay of Plenty port of Ohope.
The trip started from Nelson with the 'best five-day weather forecast I'd seen for a long time', said Mr Deakin.
However, after the first day at sea, the vessel called in to New Plymouth to drop off a badly sea-sick crew member and the next night, 35nm off the Kaipara Coast, 'around midnight there was a bang and the engine stopped'.
Then an unforecast storm lasted three days and the most of the sails were ripped, except for a headsail.
Cheval de Mer drifting - .. .
They had a EPIRB on board, but, as their yacht was still sound and floating they did not let it off, hoping to make the coastline and ask for a tow into port. However, as their electricity ran short after a couple of days in pounding weather they ended up with only two options - to get into mobile range and phone their family, or activate their distress beacon.
Coming close to shore to try to make cellphone contact also had its problems. It was as the three struggled to sail their disabled vessel away from the boiling surf off the treacherous coast that Pete Deakin 'never felt so near to becoming shipwrecked.'
'I had serious doubts we were going to be here,' the Turangi man told the Herald after a rescue tow into the harbour yesterday ended the horror eight-day voyage from Nelson.
'I have never struck that before. I realised we were in trouble and needed to let people know what was happening. That was our only hope ... to let people know.'
But as the yacht rocked and rolled in angry 4m to 6m high seas, and Mr Deakin finally set off the yacht's emergency locator beacon, there came what seemed to the crew like a miracle.
A text appeared in Richard Hope's phone, which had had no reception for many days, from the 34-year-old's partner, Lydia Deakin, at their home in Wellington.
'How are you?' texted Lydia Deakin, who is also Peter's daughter.
Mr Hope: 'Not well. No sails. No engine. No electrics and seas rising.'
Miss Deakin: 'Are you serious?'
Mr Hope: 'Yes. Please dial 111.'
A rescue helicopter offered to take the men off the yacht, which would then have to be abandoned, but the seasoned sailors declined the offer and requested a tow instead.
'We said we wanted a tow into port and they said, 'Sorry boys, there is not going to be one tonight' and then he gave us a weather forecast for 40-knot winds ... 'so just hang on'.
'So we did. We set some sail and kept two-hour watches and just kept moving out to sea. Next day, no ship arrived to tow us but the helicopter came back and dropped us a small hand-held radio, sweets, buns and a Sunday paper.
'The pilot told us he was sorry that no one could get out to tow us and could we hang on a little longer.
'We said 'yep, but we would like a tow'.'
Mr Clague, a yachtie for 30 years, hurt his back when the yacht bucked in the high seas and he was thrown from one end of the cockpit to the other.
Mr Deakin, with 43 years at sea, said the wind blew so strongly the heavy wooden ketch was doing 7 knots with only the emergency jury rig set for steering away from the coast.
On Monday, the Maritime NZ rescue co-ordination centre asked the Silver Fern Shipping coastal tanker the Kakariki to stop by the yacht.
'They tried to take us in tow but the seas were too big and they had to leave us - another night of hoping for the best,' said Mr Clague.
Keeping the crew's spirits up was the prospect of a tow arranged for the next day with Shamrock Charters, based at the Kaipara port of Helensville.
Through Monday night, the yacht slowly went backwards and forwards outside the harbour entrance, coming to within 3nm of the shore.
Then at 9am yesterday, Rod Bridge and his powerful fishing boat Francie took the yacht in tow, braving what he called a 'a good sea' crossing the bar.
Mr Deakin said the Cheval de Mer, which he had owned for six years, had proved to be 'absolutely amazing' in the Tasman Sea storm.... and, in this day of too-easily abandoned boats, so were the crew!
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