Published: November 25th 2009
November 24th 2009
There we were enjoying our voyage across the Tasman Sea en route to the New Zealand Fjords when our ship received a distress signal from a sailor who was in trouble about 300 miles from us. The sailor said that he had lost his steering, he was taking on water and his generator had failed. According to the code of the sea, it is the responsibility of the nearest ships to assist in any way possible. It just so happened that on our ship, Stanislas Mercier de Lacombe had just assumed command of the vessel and this was his first day at sea as a Captain and the Master of the Mariner. He made the decision to alter course and to go to the aid of a sailor in need.
All day and night we plowed through heavy seas and building winds as we made our way south in search of a 52’ sailboat wallowing in the ocean. Captain Stan announced that we would reach the boat about 5am the next day but he would wait until daylight to launch a rescue effort. Kevin and I got up early and took binoculars and camera to Deck 12 to look for the
boat. We were cruising in 20’+ seas with 40 mph winds and air temperature in the low 50s. Just as could be expected. After all, our ship was in the “Roaring 40s” -- a latitude known for its inhospitable conditions.
We learned that the skipper was a German sailor going around-the-world twice, solo and non-stop; a trip of approximately 65,000 miles. Bernt Lϋchtenborg is no rookie. He was named Yachtsman of the Year in 2007; he is also an author, actor and philanthropist. He left Cuxhaven, Germany on June 27, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and then cruised east past Australia and was heading toward New Zealand. That is when his problems began. His boat, the S/Y Horizons, a 16 meter Glacer, is a custom built yacht. This venture was endorsed and funded by many German sponsors. Horizons has all of the latest electronic gear such as satellite navigation, Iridium phone, computers, radar, GPS, etc. Mr Lϋchtenborg kept an electronic log and posted messages on his web site about his adventures and routing on a regular basis.
The boat appeared several miles off as she was flying a small orange steadying sail and had a
drogue (sea anchor) trailing behind the yacht in an effort to mitigate the effects of the high seas. The boat looked mighty small as she rose and fell in the waves. Our ship launched its rescue boat into the roiling seas, piloted by Staff Captain Alain Mistre and accompanied by an engineer and bosun. These three seafarers had volunteered for the risky operation. They were dressed in survival suits and hard hats. After several attempts they pulled alongside Horizons and assisted the skipper off his beautiful sailboat and onto the rescue boat. After the crew secured their passenger they headed back to the Mariner. The most dangerous part of the whole operation was getting the tender back onto the ship. The timing had to be exactly right for the crewmen to grab the lines, hook them to the rescue craft and be winched up before the next big wave hit the boat. Passengers, crew and staff were hanging over the side of the ship watching the drama. The shackles held and jerked the boat out of the water and successfully attached it to the ship. Once everyone realized that the rescue was completed there was thunderous applause and cheering. The
Captain sounded the ship’s horn three times to salute the brave sailors on a job well done. We heard that Mr Lϋchtenborg shed some tears as he watched his yacht disappear over the horizon and perhaps with it went his dream of setting a new circumnavigation record and the end of a long planned journey.
It proves once again that even an experienced sailor with the best equipment and high tech gadgets is still, at times, no match for the sea.
We spoke with Bernt a few hours after the whole ordeal. He has been in contact with a salvage company about having his boat retrieved and towed to New Zealand. He thinks that he hit something in the water—perhaps a whale or a container—and that is what destroyed his rudder. He was not able to bring anything with him off his boat. So he has no passport, money, credit cards or any of the pricey electronic equipment. Hopefully the salvage company will find the boat before anyone else does.
We had a Seven Seas Society party that evening and Captain de Lacombe lauded the three rescuers. He told us that because of the rough sea conditions he was 50/50
on whether to launch the rescue. It was a very difficult decision and he was extremely relieved when the operation was completed. The Captain said, “The difference between our success or failure today was one wave.” An admiring audience gave these four gentlemen a standing ovation. It was a satisfying end to a very exciting day!
There are more photos below