Friday 18 August 2017

'I'm not declaring an emergency' - Irish sailor stranded in the Pacific caught up in Antarctic storm

Enda O'Coineen
Enda O'Coineen
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

Irish sailor Enda O’Coineen is literally hoping for any port in a storm.

The 60-year-old Galway native was gradually making his way towards Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island this evening, (Wednesday morning local time ) despite being battered by freezing southerly winds from the Antarctic during a storm in the South Pacific.

“I’m in a storm at the moment. It’s a gale but it’s going the right way and I’m making progress,” he told Independent.ie via satellite telephone.

He was travelling at about three miles an hour on board his stricken sail boat “Kilcullen Voyager” which lost her mast on New Year’s Day as he competed in the Vendée round-the-world yacht race.

He is now out of the race and floundering in the sea about 140 miles from Dunedin using a makeshift mast.

Ideally he’ll make it to the city. But at this stage any port will do, he said.

“I’m trying to get to any harbour,” he said. “At this stage, my main focus is on survival.”

Although he is now within the 150-mile rescue zone that will enable a helicopter or other rescue vessels to come to his aid in an emergency, he said he is not ready to raise the alarm yet.

“I’m not declaring an emergency. I’m trying to get close to land on my own steam,” he said.

He has enough food to last several weeks and is keeping himself warm and dry wrapped up in sleeping bags as he “vegetates” in the boat’s cockpit.

Despite the loneliness, remoteness and isolation of the vast sea, he is doing his best to keep up his spirits.

"It's not the best way to spend the New Year," he said.

"I've gone through a lot of trauma. The psychological challenge is probably the biggest," he said.

"But I have no choice," he said, adding that keeping a sense of humour is vital.

"The alternative is to cry," he said.

Along with keeping himself occupied  watching a video on a laptop and reading books, he joked that he is keeping company with some imaginary friends, like actor Tom Hank's "friend" Wilson - a volleyball whom his ship-wrecked character in the film "Castaway" turned to for solace while stranded on a desert island following a plane crash.

"Except that was fiction. This is real," he said.

"I'm here so long I've formed the Southern Ocean Residents Association," he joked.

"People don't realise the vastness of the ocean," he said.

But he refuses to be rescued unless it's absolutely necessary.

"I'm not in crisis," he said.

And to help keep him going is the thought of meeting his first grandchild who was born while he has been out to sea for the past 60 days.

He was attempting to be the first Irishman to sail solo in a non-stop race around the world to promote the Atlantic Youth Trust charity.

While he has been forced to drop out of the race, he said he will decide once he makes it to shore whether he will build a new mast and continue his odyssey or call it a day.

"I'm looking at various options to complete the journey," he said.

"But my main focus now is to get to a safe harbour."

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