British sailor rescued from vicious Atlantic storm by luxury liner
British sailor, Mervyn Wheatley has nerves made of steel.
The ex Royal-Marines officer got caught in the middle of a fierce North Atlantic storm on June 9, while competing in the OSTAR (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race).
“There was water over the floor boards, except the floor boards weren’t there. Food all over the place, clothes all over the place,” Wheatley said Tuesday in Halifax.
“I knew I had a problem because the boat was upside down.”
Wheatley said it wasn’t long before his yacht was flipped back upwards and then he went to work; using a hand-pump he fought against the relentless flow of ocean water rushing into his yacht.
“I didn’t just sit there and burst into tears, you’ve got to get on and do something about it and that’s what you do,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley’s boat, Tamarind, was one of five affected by the storm.
As a result of the harsh conditions, emergency position indication radio beacons (EPIRB) were triggered in three boats, Wheatley’s was one of them.
“The beacon had activated itself because it had been torn off its bracket and that automatically started it,” Wheatley said.
That activation led to a swift response from the 413 Rescue and Transport Squadron, from the Canadian Forces base in Greenwood, N.S.
“We managed to get in contact with him to figure out in the middle of the night his boat had rolled over and had broken his windows and he was cold and wet. However, he was staying afloat and he was in good spirits,” said Capt. Jonathan Bregman, a CC130 Hercules pilot with the squadron.
Bregman’s crew were first on the scene, but hammering winds meant their attempts to drop fully charged radios to Wheatley for communication purposes were unsuccessful.
“My main concern then was communication because all I had left was a small, handheld VHF radio,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley said they adapted to the challenge by turning off his radio and only using it to check in with Bregman’s crew during scheduled times.
Other aircraft crews, from multiple nations, rotated through the scene until eventually a ship large enough to rescue Wheatley from the raging waters arrived.
“The transfer from my boat to whatever ship it was going to be, that was obviously going to be the dangerous part of it,” Wheatley said.
That “rescue ship” turned out to be the Transatlantic mega-liner, RMS Queen Mary 2.
“Well, we were eating breakfast and the captain made an announcement that this yachtsman had been lost at sea, that he had weighed all the options and that we were going in to get him,” said Brian Kerr, a Queen Mary 2 passenger.
Crews from the Queen Mary 2 came alongside Wheatley’s yacht and sent a rescue crew down to haul him up.
Once he was on board they gave him a medical inspection and then escorted him to a stateroom to rest.
“The contrast between what I had just left, which was a boat in fairly poor condition with water over the floorboards, to this magnificent stateroom, was just surreal,” Wheatley said.
His yacht, Tamarind, had taken on too much water to be saved and he was forced to scuttle her.
“It wasn’t easy,” a quiet Wheatley said, about having to watch her sink.
Wheatley will travel on the Queen Mary 2 back to his home in England.
As for whether or not he’ll race in the OSTAR again, “When I was pumping the boat out I thought, okay I won’t do this again. And then a bit later when it all sort of settled down and after I talked to my wife, I thought this would be a pretty sad way to leave it. So, I’ll be doing the next one.”
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