Thursday 19 October 2017

Luxury cruise liner Queen Mary 2 rescues 73-year-old yachtsman from 'extreme' Atlantic storm

It was Mervyn Wheatley's 19th Atlantic crossing and he had planned to sail back single-handed

Mervyn Wheatley RWYC
Mervyn Wheatley RWYC

Catherine Wylie, Ryan Wilkinson

A 73-year-old British sailor was rescued by the Queen Mary 2 luxury liner after his yacht was severely damaged in an “extreme” north Atlantic storm.

The lone yachtsman, understood to be former Royal Marine Mervyn Wheatley, was taking part in a transatlantic race when it was hit by the tempest in the early hours of Friday.

Despite Mr Wheatley’s yacht, called Tamarind, being battered in 15-metre seas by winds reaching 60 knots (69mph), the pensioner was described as being “uninjured and in good spirits”.

A profile on the Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC) website said the experienced sailor left Plymouth for Newport, Rhode Island, on the “slow and comfortable American cruising boat” – which is fitted out below with teak and a bath – on 29 May.

It was his 19th Atlantic crossing and he had planned to sail back single-handed, with the 6,500-nautical-mile voyage ending in July or August.

The UK Coastguard and counterparts in Halifax, Canada, launched a long-range rescue mission involving an RAF C-130 Hercules after detecting a distress beacon at around 4am on Friday.

Meanwhile coordinators radioed the luxury QM2 for assistance, which diverted its course and headed to the scene, arriving at around 1pm on Saturday.

Master of QM2, Captain Chris Wells, who led the rescue mission, said it was standard seafaring practice to go to the aid of a vessel in distress.

He added: “We were pleased to be able to help and delighted that the yachtsman is safe and well and now on board.”

Mr Wheatley, a father-of-two of Newton Ferrers, Devon, served 33 years as an officer in the Royal Marines, according to the RWYC.

Among his achievements is skippering one of the eight boats to take part in the inaugural Clipper Round the World Race in 1996, which he also competed in again in the 2005/6 race/

According to a fundraising page, it was the fifth time Mr Wheatley had competed in the Original Single Handed Transatlantic Race, known as OSTAR, with Tamarind.

The yacht was one of five craft competing in the OSTAR and Two Handed Transatlantic Race to be affected by the storm, three of which are understood to have been piloted by British skippers.

Despite all of the boats suffering damage, there were no reports of injuries.

n its website, the RWYC, which organises the races, said: “The RWYC would like to thank all personnel at the Halifax Coastguard for their immediate and magnificent response to this emergency situation. All seafarers owe them a debt of gratitude.”

John Lewis, race director, told BBC News that in 25 years he had not seen conditions so bad. “It's unusual, it's extreme, but it does happen in the North Atlantic,” he said.

Daniel Bailey, maritime operations officer for the UK Coastguard, said: “We are extremely grateful for the support and professionalism that the RMS Queen Mary 2 provided during this rescue.”

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