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Yacht abandoned after dramatic sea rescue

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A Tauranga man has told of being forced to abandon a stricken yacht at sea after plucking its sailor to safety in a dramatic night-time rescue from dangerous seas.

Coastguard skipper Chris Phillips was one of the rescuers called to the aid of Paul Christenson, 54, caught in rough conditions about 70kms north east of Tauranga last night.

Mr Christenson said his plight was, at times, ''terrifying''.

Mr Christenson had been sailing from Auckland to Dunedin when the steering failed in his yacht Windsong, leaving him stranded in dangerous seas about 10kms south of Mayor Island.

Mr Christenson, a seasoned sea man, said today the ordeal had shown him what was important in life. He was now waiting to reunite with his wife in Dunedin.

He said the first thing he wanted to do after having survived his nightmare at sea was to see his wife ''and hold her very tightly''.

Mr Phillips said Mr Christenson sought safety in the shelter of Tauranga Harbour as conditions began to worsen. Mr Christenson attempted to sail to shore but his boat's failure and rough sea conditions left him stranded. Mr Christenson activated his distress beacon for help at 8.15pm, alerting the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) to his plight.

The centre responded by asking the 266m container ship Kota Loceng, which was nearby, to help. It reached the yacht about 11pm but winds had reached 35 knots (65km/h) and swells had grown to 2m and the man was unwilling to risk a transfer to the ship.

Mr Phillips and his Coastguard crew arrived at the yacht about 4am.

''The seas were far less than ideal, I wouldn't say they were the worst I've dealt with but I've dealt with some gnarly seas over the years. These were pretty bad,'' Mr Phillips said.

Mr Phillips described the waves as wide and ''quite unpredictable''.

''When waves are close together like that, driven by the wind essentially, it makes it very rough whereas a big, large swell is perfectly easy to deal with. These were short, steep waves.''

The Coastguard vessel pulled up alongside the yacht and Mr Christenson managed to climb aboard.

''As the event developed ... he wasn't in a good space.''

Mr Phillips said Mr Christenson was ''completely exhausted''.

''He was by himself and had been battling quite big seas for some time. With the failure of the boat, he was just physically drained,'' Mr Phillips said.

''From when I spoke to him on the way home, he sounded like he had been battling for many hours before that.''

Mr Phillips said the boat was at a distance far enough from shore to make communication with the man patchy. A rescue helicopter was called to the boat's location to help relay communication with Mr Phillips and his team.

''That's my second boat I've had to leave at seas and just bring the person or people to safety,'' Mr Phillips said.

''It's not a nice feeling for us as Coastguard but it's sure as [hell] not a great feeling for the person who owns the boat.''

Mr Christenson was spent but not physically injured. It is understood he left Tauranga early this morning.

Mr Phillips said the boat was expected to remain at sea until Mr Christenson's insurance company arranged to retrieve it.

A navigation safety warning has been issued to shipping in the area.

RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Geoff Lunt praised the work of the Coastguard crew in bringing the yachtsman aboard in difficult conditions.

The man arrived ashore in Tauranga shortly after 6am.

"It was a great effort by the Coastguard, and thanks are also due to the ... Rescue Helicopter and the master of the Kota Loceng for their efforts," Mr Lunt said.

"The yachtsman has had a very uncomfortable night but the combined efforts of those involved has meant a potentially very hazardous situation has been resolved relatively quickly.''

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