St Francis yachtsmen rescued from capsized yacht

After being stranded at sea when the yacht they were on capsized on Wednesday the crew of Gulliver, skipper Greg West, 60, his crew Frans Sprung, 76, Shaun Kennedy, 34, (all 3 from St Francis Bay) and Mike Morck,64, from Knysna, were released from hospital (Thursday, 16 June) and  returned home.

The crew huddled for several hours in the life raft  before they were found. The life raft was activated in a heroic life saving attempt that was also not without mishap. As it inflated the raft was suddenly caught in strong winds and began to be blown away from the upturned hull of the yacht.  One of the men managed to swim after it and bring it back to the capsized yacht!

According to Attie Gunter, NSRI Witsand station commander, at 7.22 pm on 15 June NSRI Witsand volunteers were activated following reports of a yacht in unknown difficulties and possibly missing off-shore of Cape Infanta with four crewmen onboard. The wife of skipper Greg West  reported to an NSRI Knysna volunteer that the yacht Gulliver with her husband Greg, and his crew  of Strung, Morck and Kennedy, were sailing in the direction of Cape Town and were known to have passed Mossel Bay. But cellphone contact with the yacht was lost since lunchtime and all efforts to raise the yacht failed.

Maritime Radio Services tried to contact the yacht by VHF Radio. The NSRI Knysna, NSRI Mossel Bay,  NSRI Still Bay, NSRI Witsand and NSRI Agulhas were all placed on high alert as the gravity of the situation escalated during the afternoon and the fate of the crew and yacht was still unkown..

It was later confirmed that an EPIRB (an Emergency Distress Radio Beacon), normally activated manually or when immersed in water, was intercepted by an international monitoring Maritime Search and Rescue agency and they had alerted South African Maritime Search and Rescue that the emergency distress beacon belonging to the Knysna yacht Gulliver was emitting the Distress Signal about 12 nautical miles off-shore of Cape Infanta. It was suspected the yacht had either capsized or sustained severe damage and the fate of the four crewmen was unknown.

It was decided that NSRI Witsand would launch the 5.5 meter Rigid Inflatable rescue craft Queenie Payne to investigate . The Queenie Payne with three rescue crew onboard negotiated up to 5 meter rough sea swells and a gusting up to 60 knot wind in  dark conditions  to reach the general location of the EPIRB transmission.

The crew on the Queenie Payne tried to call the casualty yacht on VHF radio but there was no response. An illuminating flare was set off and the crew then noticed a small flashing (flickering) light about one nautical mile away and motored towards it.

The rescue team found the upturned hull of the yacht (a 40 foot catamaran) and all 4 crewmen in a life-raft which was tied to the capsized hull of the yacht. The men related that the yacht capsized in a sudden extremely strong wind squall at around 1.30 pm while they were motor sailing and The EPIRB was manually set off by  Shaun Kennedy who had to swim under the yacht to do so.

The yacht’s crew then huddled on the upturned hull of the yacht before releasing the life-raft later in the day – which also required swimming under the yacht.

The four men were suffering hypothermia and shock (only one of the men was seriously hypothermic) and were taken on board the sea rescue craft and began the difficult task of motoring back towards shore with seven men on board.

 A Maritime Navigational warning of the upturned hull of the yacht floating and adrift about 12 nautical miles off-shore of Cape Infanta was broadcast and the fate of the capsized yacht is unknown but it is believed the owners will attempt salvage efforts. SAMSA (The South African Maritime Safety Authority) will investigate the incident as per standard procedure.

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