Mayday yachties head for New Plymouth

KENT GRAY - BOATING NZ
Last updated 12:59 03/03/2012

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Communication with a yacht in the Two-handed Round New Zealand Yacht Race that issued a Mayday call overnight is being kept to a minimum as the two sailors on board battle to nurse their crippled Stewart 34 Pelagian II to safety.

Experienced skipper Kurt Boyle and crewman Matt Burkhardt issued the Mayday call and activated their EPIRB (emergency locator beacon) at 9.30pm last night at a position about 275 nautical miles west of New Plymouth when they started taking on water faster than they could pump it out. Winds in excess of 50 knots and breaking seas as high as 10-metres added to the mayhem on board.

They managed to plug the leak sufficiently with the help of bilge pumps powered by their onboard engine and are now headed for New Plymouth. They are expected to reach the Taranaki port sometime on Monday as Pelagian II battles "still pretty horrendous" conditions left over from the weather bomb that has battered New Zealand.

A ship that was redirected to assist Pelagian II, a 34-foot yacht used by Sir Russell Coutts early in the America's Cup legend's match-racing career, has since been stood down as the pair have further slowed the ingress of water and are confident they have sufficient diesel to keep pumping and reach New Plymouth safely. However, a spokesman from the Short-handed Sailing Association of New Zealand (SSANZ), which promotes the race, said Boyle and Burkhardt still had plenty on their hands.

"They have a satphone on board but other than the normal radio skeds, we're not bothering them...they've still got a lot on,"  SSANZ secretary Steve Newcombe told Boating New Zealand magazine.

"It's still pretty miserable, the seas are horrendous, really, really bad. But things have calmed down and while we're worried, we know they'll be alright.  We don't let just anybody do this race. They're very competent sailors and Pelagian was well prepared...they had storm shutters on all the windows and that sort of thing.

"It's just miserable, that's all."

Newcombe said it was still unclear what had caused the leak. He had spent most of the night updating worried family of the Boyle and Burkhardt.

Boyle purchased the 29-year-old Pelagian II in 2001 and has had exhaustive work done on the vessel including installing a new rudder, cutting out part of the stern, a "bottom job" and replacing most of the on board systems. He has extensive bluewater expensive having previous sailed to New Caledonia as well as crossing the Indian Ocean and completing the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) last year.

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Just five of the 10-strong Round NZ fleet are still racing with Expedition Coppelia, Truxton and Danaide remaining in Golden Bay after detouring to take shelter there on Thursday after taking a battering from an earlier storm. Truxton's run for safety wasn't without incident, however, with the 10.5-metre Tiller-design hitting a sandbar as it entered Golden Bay. "[Skipper] Chris Skinner thought it was dolphins but it was sand. Luckily they bumped off," Newcombe said.

A fifth yacht, Krakato II, has abandoned the race as skipper Rhys Boulton could no longer stand the pain in his foot which he badly injured on the first leg of the 2070nm race from Auckland to Mangonui in the Far North.

Communication with the five yachts still racing is proving difficult but it is understood Sunstone, a 1965 varnished wooden Sparkman and Stephens 39 being sailed by the well-known husband and wife team of Tom and Vicky Jackson, lead on handicap.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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