Geoff McGregor, NSRI East London station commander, said:
At 01h30, Saturday, 28th January, NSRI East London were placed on alert by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following a VHF radio request for assistance, intercepted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services, from the 30 foot yacht Sticky Fingers (a Whitbread 30 design), with 2 crew onboard, Craig Rosen, 53, from Durban and Johan Joubert, 44, from Mossel Bay, delivering the yacht from Durban to Mossel Bay for the owner.
They reported heavy weather, depleted fuel reserves, and confirmed to be under sail, safe, but requesting a tow.
TNPA East London Port Control, after plotting their position to be some 80 nautical miles North East of East London, requested that they remain under sail and the matter to be reevaluated at sunrise.
NSRI East London, East London Port Control and Telkom Maritime Radio Services monitored the yacht through the night and NSRI East London duty crew remained on alert and prepared to launch at any time.
Craig told us later that at that stage they were already tired, having run out of fuel approximately off-shore of Port Edward they had sailed comfortably in 2 meter swells and a 15 knot North Easterly wind to where they believed they were not far from East London and then turning around and sailing with the wind which had changed to a Southerly, picking up to 30 knots and a sea swell of up to 7 meters, forcing them to remain awake and to sail through the rough seas.
They headed towards Bashee, on the Transkei coast, hoping to find calmer waters and just off-shore of Bashee Point, but for only a few minutes they found flat, calm, water before the swell picked up to 7 meters with a 15 knot wind.
At sunrise TNPA East London Port Control requested the NSRI East London duty crew to launch to go to assist the yacht after sea conditions had deteriorated.
The NSRI East London sea rescue craft Spirit of Lotto, crewed by coxswain Ian Reid, and crew Kevin Pirzenphal, Wynand Roets and Declan Winn, was launched at 09h30 and supported at our sea rescue base control room by myself, Cathrine Prentis, Leonard Wallace (who is also an EC Government Health EMS rescue paramedic) and Charissa Roets, we prepared for the long day ahead.
After coordinates provided by the crew of Sticky Fingers appeared not to correspond with where we thought that they may be the EC Government Health EMS dispatched an EMS rescue helicopter from Umtata and following a search the helicopter crew found them off-shore of Bashee on the Transkei Coast and our sea rescue craft were 1 hour away from their position.
Our sea rescue craft rendezvoused with the yacht at around 13h30 in heavy weather, a 7 meter swell and strong winds and a towline was rigged.
Expected back at Port at around 01h00 the tow effort had begun.
With Craig and Johan remaining at the helm of their yacht, exhausted and riding out the tow effort in what were now 5 meter swells breaking over the yacht, some 40 nautical miles into the tow effort and by this stage off-shore of the Kei River Mouth, their cabin hatch kept banging open and closed and Johan was sent forward to secure the hatch when he noticed that their cabin had filled with water.
Bailing water proved fruitless and they summoned the sea rescue craft to report that their yacht was sinking.
Coxswain Ian Reid, taking everything into account to try to save the yacht, but faced with the heavy sea swells and the yacht already half under water and heavy laden from water intake, made the difficult decision to request the crew of Sticky Fingers to abandon ship.
The men complied, having no time to take personal possessions, the yacht now floundering and lying low in the water and at risk of being capsized by swells which were breaking over the yacht, they were both taken safely aboard the sea rescue craft where they were treated for exhaustion and for early stages of hypothermia and Craig suffering a sprained ankle which was strapped.
The two men went below decks and wrapped in thermal blankets they slept.
The sea rescue craft remained at the yacht for some time but after a large wave, estimated to be between 9 and 10 meters, swept over the yacht, the yacht, lying three quarters deep in water and with the bow completely submerged, the sea rescue craft departed the scene and it is suspected that the yacht will sink.
An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) had been activated by Craig and Johan and positioned in the cabin for Maritime Authorities to track the yacht if she remains semi-submerged and if she continues to drift.
The sea rescue craft arrived at our sea rescue station at 23h30 where they were met by the NSRI shore crew and an an EC Government Health EMS ambulance that had been summoned.
Paramedics medically assessed the two men and despite the sprained ankle to Craig’s right ankle they were declared fit and they stayed at our base overnight and departed this morning to fly home.
Craig and Johan have expressed their commendations to the NSRI crew for their rescue expressing what a fantastic job they did in trying to save the yacht and for their safe rescue.
The owner will evaluate his options but at this stage a salvage effort is not being considered.
Telkom Maritime Radio Services and MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) will track the EPIRB and broadcast Maritime Safety messages warning ships in the area of the semi submerged yacht although the yacht is expected to sink completely.
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