Mini Transat yachts in Coastguard Alert

Three yachts attempting to qualify for the Mini Transat in trouble over weekend

Monday April 9th 2001, Author: Gerald New, Location: United Kingdom
Falmouth Coastguard had to deal with all three yachts that had entered the qualifying stages for the mini Transat scheduled for September, at the weekend.
First a French yacht `Tragaire' issued a Mayday call on Thursday afternoon requesting assistance. The position of the vessel was given as between Cork and Lands End, approximately 110 miles off landfall. The Coastguard established communications with the yacht but had severe difficulties with language differences.

An RAF helicopter from Chivenor was scrambled and upon arrival at the yacht was told that they were not needed. The single occupant insisted that he had been knocked unconscious and had become disoriented, but now no longer required assistance.

Later a further mayday was heard and attributed to the same vessel, Tragaire. In broken English the skipper kept repeating that his `boat was broken' and that he required assistance. His emergency call was picked up by a passing vessel and relayed to Falmouth.

The RNAS helicopter, which had just landed at Chivenor, was then requested to return to the scene. When they arrived back above the Tragaire due to the size of the vessel they found they had no way to get the man off. They were able to communicate with him that he had to get into the water and abandon his vessel. This he did and he was flown back to Treliske Hospital for a check up after concerns about his original head injury. He was later declared to be fit and well and he left hospital bound for a local hotel.

Later in the evening the French Coastguard at Etel requested broadcast action by Falmouth Coastguard as they were looking for an overdue vessel, Aquitaine 33, who had been trying to qualify for the same race.

The single occupant's wife had last heard him of when he was by the Coninbeg light vessel, several miles south of Waterford in Ireland on the 2nd April. It was later discovered that he had lost all his electricity supply on board, and his only form of communication was a hand-held mobile telephone, which due to the distances involved was unable to get a signal.

It was established that the weather had been particularly bad in the same sea area earlier and southerly storm force 10 winds had been blowing. Falmouth Coastguard then began broadcast action and the French authorities sent an aircraft into the area to look for the yacht and its occupant. Fortunately he was eventually located safe and well some two miles off l'Orient, off the French coast.

Finally a pan broadcast was heard from the third yacht to engage in the qualifying stages of the race. The Saturnin, which had been dismasted, had earlier broadcast a pan signal and the vessel with one crew member, was located 5 miles west nor' west of Pendeen and was towed into Newlyn in Cornwall by the Sennen Cove lifeboat.

Alan Matthews, Watch Manager at Falmouth Coastguard said: "It has been a particularly difficult time in the last 24 hours for the Coastguard ensuring each one of these individuals was located safe and well. We trust the race itself will be less fraught than the qualifiers!"

The performance of the three yachts raises questions about their preparation for an Atlantic trip and the Falmouth Coastguard and RAF rescue teams involved would seem to have genuine doubts as to the level of experience and preparation of the yachts.

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