Bad weather hampers rescue

By Kristin Edge

Several attempts were needed to rescue three people on board a yacht that began to lose power and take on water off Northland yesterday.

A call for help was made just after midnight from the 13.7 metre sloop Freedom Hunter, which was on its way to Opua in the Far North from Fiji. At the time, the New Zealand owned yacht was 54km east of Great Exhibition Bay in the Far North.

Late yesterday, the damaged yacht was being towed to Maunganui Harbour.

Shortly after the alarm was raised, French yacht Confiance and a container ship were diverted towards the yacht.

The Northland Emergency Helicopter Trust attempted to winch salvage pumps and personnel on board but the operation had to be abandoned due to rough conditions.

Rescue helicopter chief pilot Peter Turnbull said that despite the rescuers' experience, the weather and dark conditions prevented them from lowering anyone or gear on deck.

He said the yacht was continuing to sail at about 5 knots but was taking on more water when on the starboard side.

"We got there and it was pretty windy and rough seas, which made it difficult in night conditions to get the gear down," Mr Turnbull said.

A keen sailor, Mr Turnbull said there was a lot of equipment on the boat, including solar panels, and lowering the pumps risked causing major damage.

"It's not often we can't complete a job but it was very difficult."

He said had there been lives at risk, they would have lowered a rescuer but they were aware of the other yacht in the area.

A volunteer coastguard team set out on two-metre seas to try to transfer rescuers on to the yacht about 5am. Arriving three hours later, they also found the conditions too rough to board.

Coastguard duty officer Ray Burge said the yacht had been towed in to safer waters.

"They're now going to tow the vessel into Maunganui Harbour and put it alongside the jetty there."

Everyone on board was safe but tired, having been up all night.

- Northern Advocate

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