Sailors rescued from crippled yacht

RESCUED: Finn skipper Carl Reller, of Wellington, was forced to watch the boat he had built from scratch 40 years ago sink beneath the waves.
RESCUED: Finn skipper Carl Reller, of Wellington, was forced to watch the boat he had built from scratch 40 years ago sink beneath the waves.

Three sailors plucked from the stormy South Pacific after a massive wave crippled their yacht have arrived home in New Zealand.

On Friday evening, the 38-foot ketch Finn, skippered by Alaska-born Wellingtonian Carl Reller, was between Fiji and New Zealand, running through heavy seas, when it was disabled by a huge wave.

The rescue came amid storms across the Pacific, with a typhoon hitting Japan and bad weather battering the top of the North Island.

Reller detailed the ordeal last night.

"We were coming back from Fiji. The radio had crapped out so I didn't have a weather forecast, but I could tell it was getting bad."

The waves had been heavy, but nothing prepared him for the sight of the big wave building.

"It was kind of like somebody had just taken a big scoop out of the water, and there was this big hole, and I was looking down into it."

The wave crashed straight over the top of Finn and the boat went almost into free fall off its peak. Reller was thrown across the cabin and knocked unconscious.

"I woke up and there was water rising up over my waist . . . I thought if it kept coming in it would sink, but it didn't."

He went up on deck and saw one of Finn's two masts smashed into four pieces.

The two crew - Wellington couple Caitlin Lester and Sanjiv Perera - had never sailed before.

Reller realised the boat would still float, but it wasn't going to be possible to rig the surviving mast up. The wind was building all the time - up to 50 knots.

With no radio, he set off an emergency locator beacon.

After that it was a matter of waiting, hoping, keeping the spirits up and staying warm. Four hours after the beacon was set off, an Orion search plane flew overhead.

The signal had been picked up. But it was not for another 24 hours that help appeared.

He did not want Lester and Perera to be too afraid, so he played down the seriousness of the situation.

"Most of the time, they were having the time of their lives, this big adventure. I just put a brave face on."

The saviour was the Spanish longline trawler Carmen Tere.

The crew shouted for Reller to turn on the lights - but they had shorted out along with the rest of the electrics, so he sent parachute flares up into the air. The crew sent out a Zodiac and Reller, Lester and Perera jumped in.

Reller then had to watch the boat he had built by hand nearly 40 years ago in Alaska sink beneath the waves.

On board the Spanish vessel, the captain gave him half a pint of sangria and stitched his head wound closed.

After transferring to an Auckland-bound container ship, the trio arrived back in New Zealand on Tuesday. Reller flew back to Wellington yesterday and planned to visit the doctor and get a check-up today.

The rescue came as parts of the Far North faced a second night without power as wild winds continue to cause headaches.

Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management said last night that 10,000 Northlanders could spend another night without electricity and in Auckland more than 5800 homes were still without power at 6pm.

The weather has also caused havoc on the roads, knocked out power and caused ferry and flight cancellations.

A woman gave birth in her car, a "hero farmer" with a tractor saved a pair of Northland motorists trapped by floodwaters and, far north of the North Island, the Navy performed a dramatic rescue of three yachties in high seas.

The Dominion Post