Rescued yachtie: Preparation key to survival

By Kristin Edge -
Steve White activated his emergency locator beacon and prepared to abandon ship after hitting something in the dark. Photo / iStock
Steve White activated his emergency locator beacon and prepared to abandon ship after hitting something in the dark. Photo / iStock

A Northland yachtie winched to safety, after abandoning his sinking vessel and floating in a dinghy for two hours 180km off Northland's coast, reckons preparation was the key to his survival.

Steve White, 48, of South Head on the Kaipara Harbour, circumnavigating New Zealand solo, knew he was in trouble when he heard a loud bang on the fibreglass hull of his 50ft yacht about 5.30pm on Saturday. It was dark and he was 180km off shore from Kaitaia. His final destination was Whangarei marina on Wednesday.

Yesterday, he recounted the high-sea drama saying he never feared for his life as he was well prepared to survive at least a week on a liferaft.

As an experienced yachtie with a lifetime around the sea, who has sailed round New Zealand once before and to the Chatham Islands twice, said being prepared saved him.
"Preparation is everything, think ahead about the potential risk. Definitely have 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."

However, hitting the unidentified object in the darkness jolted him awake.

"There was a bang and a shudder. I got up on deck and couldn't see anything," said the self-confessed hunting, fishing diving man.

Immediately he returned below deck to find water coming through a hole. He started stuffing pillows into gap but soon realised he was "fighting a losing battle".

"The water was starting to come over the floor boards and I knew I had to get off."

He activated his emergency locator beacon and prepared to abandon ship. Letting down the sails stopped the yacht and he loaded the life-raft into a dinghy and gathered his "grab bags" stuffed full of emergency gear and food.

With those stashed on the dinghy he had some time to grab some personal items, before his boat named Maeva filled with water and sunk.

Mr White had a secondary emergency device he also activated. The inReach two-way, satellite communication device allowed him to send and receive messages to mobile numbers.

He text his wife of eight years telling her he was not in immediate danger, the weather was good and to let emergency services this wasn't a false activation.

Mr White inflated the life raft, attached it to his dingy and tied the kayak on to make himself as visible as possible to rescuers.

Once the signal was received by the Rescue Coordination Centre in Wellington they requested the help of the Northland Electricity rescue helicopter
Pilot Dean Voelkerling said the crew flew to Kaitaia, refuelling before heading towards the yachtie.

"We picked up his emergency locator beacon 15 minutes away from where he was. His marine 16 radio was water-logged so we couldn't quite hear what he was saying.

"A St John paramedic winched him off and we flew back to Whangarei."

Mr White had nothing but praise for his rescuers saying the were efficient and professional.

Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman John Ashby said Mr White did everything right.

"He did all the right things, had all the right equipment, and did everything he could to help save himself when his solo trip circumnavigating New Zealand turned to potential disaster."

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