Skippers pull off high-sea rescues


The Baltimar Borea rescues Swedish skipper Timo and his New Zealand partner from his yacht, the Ciru. Picture / RNZAF
By Louisa Cleave
Ship captains skilfully manoeuvred their hulking vessels alongside distressed yachts to carry out two dramatic rescues in treacherous South Pacific conditions yesterday.

Garry and Lisa Blackwood were plucked from their Canadian-registered yacht Scot Free at first light by the cargo ship Capitaine Wallis.

The couple had been adrift in high swells and gale-force winds halfway between New Zealand and Tonga since late on Sunday.

In a brief communication yesterday morning, the ship's captain, Jim Hebden, said: "Picked up two survivors at 04.30. Garry [Blackwood] has a head injury but is OK and they are both asleep."

A few hours later, at 10am, the bulk carrier Baltimar Boreas rescued a Swedish skipper and his New Zealand partner from the distressed yacht Ciru.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington picked up a mayday on Monday night and a Royal NZ Air Force Orion located the Ciru at 1.15am yesterday.

Like Scot Free, the Ciru had lost its masts, and the engine and global positioning system were not working.

Ciru skipper Timo is well known around the Whangarei Marina, where he has moored for the past two or three sailing seasons.

He recently fell in love with the local woman who was on the journey with him, said a friend.

Rescue centre mission co-ordinator Dave Wilson said the Ciru was the fourth successful rescue in four days in the South Pacific.

"It's a fantastic outcome," he said. "In total seven people have been rescued, which is simply outstanding."

Wing Commander John Lovatt, commanding officer of the Air Force's No 5 Squadron based at Whenuapai, was on the flight which located Ciru and flew on Monday when the first Orion found Scot Free in trouble in dire conditions.

"The conditions were absolutely atrocious, the worst I have seen. It was blowing 55 knots across the surface with 8m swells. There was lots of foam coming off the water.

"I'm a sailor and it is the sort of stuff you don't want to encounter."

Captain Hebden, 59, is no stranger to dramatic sea rescues and has taken at least 15 survivors on board during his 25 years on the Auckland-to-Fiji run.

Friend and colleague Tony Emirali said Captain Hebden should be recognised for his efforts but was a humble man.

Captain Hebden had manoeuvred the 5000- tonne Capitaine Wallis into position among 5m swells and put his ship in jeopardy, said Mr Emirali.

"He's a very skilled seaman."

A container ship also helped in the rescue of another sailor over the weekend.

The exhausted solo yachtie was plucked to safety after he had to abandon his yacht Gypsy Rose III 450 nautical miles northeast of New Zealand on Saturday.

On Sunday, a yacht went to the aid of an Italian man, known as Andy, and his German partner Dani on Bird of Passage.

Irishwoman Emma Dowley, who sailed to New Zealand with Andy, said he bought Bird of Passage in Nelson.

Ms Dowley said she did not join Andy and Dani on their trip to Fiji because she wanted to watch the Lions instead.

She said the couple should have been in Fiji by the time the weather turned nasty and she did not know what delayed them at Minerva Reef.

The Capitaine Wallis, with the Blackwoods on board, is due back in Auckland tomorrow and the crew of the Ciru is due in NZ on Friday.