Plucked from the sea yet keen to sail again

18:29, Jul 13 2014
Caitlin Lester and Sanjiv Perera
HOME AND DRY: Caitlin Lester and Sanjiv Perera, of Wellington, were sailing from Fiji to New Zealand on the yacht Finn when it was dismasted.

A pair of rookie sailors whose first voyage ended in a rescue operation and an abandoned yacht, say they will return to sea.

Caitlin Lester, 26 and Sanjiv Perera, 29, of Newtown, were sailing from Fiji to New Zealand on board the Finn when it was dismasted in heavy seas on July 4.

After a sinking scare, an emergency beacon activation and 28 hours adrift, they were picked up by Spanish longliner Carmen Tere. It was the first time they had been ocean sailing.

The pair met up with Wellington sailor Carl Reller, who built Finn by hand in Alaska nearly 40 years ago, through a website.

"It was our first big sailing trip," Perera said.

Lester recalled the calm days early in the trip as slow and uneventful as they learned the ropes from Reller.


But the weather started to worsen from July 2 and the waves built. For two days they were more or less confined to Finn's cabin. But nothing prepared them for what happened on the evening of July 4.

The initial moments after the big wave struck were the most frightening. Lester was thrown into a cupboard, Reller was knocked unconscious with a head wound gushing blood and the cabin filling with water through an open hatch.

Lester grabbed the life raft and prepared to abandon ship.

It helped she had been reading a book about almost exactly the same kind of situation - Survive the Savage Seas.

"We talked about this book all through the journey . . . then suddenly, just like the book, our boat was shipwrecked."

The boat was not sinking and Reller was functioning, though there were hairy moments waiting for the emergency beacon to be noticed.

At one point, worrying the mast would smash against the hull, the rookie pair strapped on harnesses and braved the elements to cut it loose.

Perera was amazed by his sense of calm.

"You always wonder how you might react in an emergency . . . I was observing myself going ‘ok, I'm quite calm, I can deal with this'."

Within four hours they knew help was on the way - an Orion plane had been seen overhead - and the weather was calming.

"The danger was gone but it was nerve-wracking wondering if we would get picked up," Lester said.

Eventually, the Carmen Tere arrived - Reller forced to say goodbye to his cherished Finn.

The Dominion Post