Yachtie aids his own rescue

Northland yachtsman Steve White did ‘all the right things’ when his 15-metre vessel began taking on water 185 kilometres west of Kaitaia last weekend.

He put out a mayday call on maritime radio, then activated his EPIRB to alert the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand of his rapidly deteriorating situation, and evacuated his sinking yacht for his dinghy.

Steve packed his grab bags and a life raft into the dinghy; and his dive gear into a kayak and spare life raft, roping all three small craft in a line.

“The kayak and other life raft were both bright yellow – I was making it easier to get spotted by the helicopter,” he says.

Steve then took a ‘selfie’ as he settled down to wait for rescue – in 15 knot winds, a two metre swell, and the morning dawning warm and sunny.

Regular contact with his wife, Sue, via texts on an inReach satellite device with GPS, meant she was able to brief the rescue services on her husband’s position and safe condition.

“I was more worried about her than myself,” says Steve, 48, a farmer from South Head on Kaipara Harbour.

RCCNZ watch leader John Ashby says Steve “did all the right things, had all the right equipment, and did everything he could to help save himself”.

A loud bang had alerted Steve to trouble about 5am on Saturday morning – as he was headed round the top of the North Island enroute for Whangarei – on the last legs of his second solo trip circumnavigating New Zealand in his 1980 Cheoy Lee model yacht.

Steve went up on deck to see what had hit the fibre glass vessel, but couldn’t spot anything. On returning below deck he realised the boat was rapidly taking on water, around midship on the starboard side. He had to disassemble furniture and equipment around the bulkhead and forward storage area to try and plug the gap with pillows and other gear.

However Steve quickly realised he “was losing the battle” with only him to fight it – and that he needed to raise the alarm, and then lower the sails to slow the yacht so he could ’abandon ship’.

The Whangarei-based Northland Emergency Services Trust Rescue Helicopter hovered overhead a couple of hours later, about 9am, and Steve was winched aboard.

An experienced yachtsman, he has never had any problems in the past with hitting logs or containers or other sea flotsam. Crayfish floats, and logs off the Fiordland coast, are normally the “biggest worry”, he says.

He thanks RCCNZ and the helicopter crew for coming to his rescue, and advises other boaties and yachties that “preparation is everything”.

“Definitely include a GPS device that emergency services can locate so they don’t have to search a huge area. It can mean the difference between being found or not.”