Drama on high seas as 21 sailors pulled from capsized race yacht
Published 16/08/2011 | 05:00
The skipper of the multi-million euro yacht that capsized off the Cork coast last night, described today how the crew scrabbled to get out in time.
Earl Williams said people were asleep on board: "The mast hit the water and started to turn upside down very quickly. We didn’t have a lot of time to get out," he said.
Rescued crew members admitted they thought five colleagues faced certain death.
Sixteen of the crew had desperately clung to the upturned hull of their yacht off the West Cork coast -- and watched helplessly as five drifted away in a life raft.
Two of the 21 rescued crew from the yacht, Rambler, said they were stunned at how quickly the vessel ran into trouble and then overturned in horrific sea conditions.
The US-registered vessel, which was taking part in the Fastnet Race, overturned suddenly not far from the Fastnet Lighthouse and Cape Clear island, about 20 miles from Baltimore in Cork
Bob Wylie (48), speaking in Baltimore just minutes after his ordeal, said they were all incredibly relieved that everyone survived.
"We're all so relieved -- we can't believe it really," he said.
Mr Wylie -- from Lac Quarrie outside Sydney in Australia -- said that seconds after the yacht capsized he battled to climb up on to the rear of the hull where he remained perched for two hours before being rescued.
"My first priority was to get myself safe and the second priority was to try to help the others," he said.
"I saw them (the five in the liferaft) drifting away from the yacht. I threw them a rope but it couldn't reach them. I was very worried for them," he added.
Michael Van Beuren (44), from Rhode Island in the US, said he was "hugely relieved" when he heard that all 21 crew had been rescued safe.
"The water wasn't bone-chilling cold. But I began to get worried as time went on," he said.
"When I saw them (the five) get separated and then we could see them drifting away, I got very worried. I was concerned that they might not survive. It is such a relief that we all made it ashore," he added.
The crew members brought ashore in Baltimore last night were given hot coffee, tea, soup and sandwiches.
The 100-foot Rambler capsized at 6.30pm -- prompting one of the biggest air-sea rescue operations in modern times by the Irish Coastguard.
Irish Coastguard helicopters based at Shannon and Waterford, two lifeboats from Baltimore and Castletownbere and a Naval Service vessel the LE Ciara raced to the scene in a bid to save the stricken yachtsmen amid 15ft waves.
They were alerted by a personal locator beacon which was being carried by one of the crew.
One injured female crew member had to be airlifted to Tralee General Hospital when fog at Cork Airport prevented aircraft from landing for a time. Her condition was described as critical last night.
The Fastnet race ranks as one of the world's most famous sea events but was marred by tragedy in 1979 when a sudden storm caused havoc in the fleet.
A total of 25 of the 300 yachts taking part that year were sunk or disabled by Storm Force 7 winds.
Fifteen people lost their lives and a special Fastnet tragedy memorial was later erected on Cape Clear Island.
The owner of the boat George David told Morning Ireland today that the crew was very experienced and had participated in 100 Fastnet races between them.
“Boats do tip over. We don’t like it but it happens from time to time. The keel fin has fractured, snapped off. It’s a piece of solid stainless steel and it’s designed not to do what it did, but it did,” he said.
When the accident occurred The Rambler 100 was one of the leaders in the race and was 10 miles south-west of Ballyieragh off the coast of Cork.
The weather conditions were described as foggy and rough with a 2 metre swell and 4.6 winds - ideal for racing and Kevin Cotter, coxswain of Baltimore Lifeboat said that it was difficult to spot the wreck in the 'soupy' conditions.