'Our three days of hell'

By Abby Gillies

After dramatic high-seas rescue, Kiwi sailor tells of fear and misery on crippled yacht in fury of Pacific storm.

Steve Jones and Tania Davies. Photo / Supplied
Steve Jones and Tania Davies. Photo / Supplied

An Auckland woman and her British-born partner endured three days of hell as a fierce storm battered them inside their stricken yacht in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking from the cargo ship that rescued them early yesterday, Tania Davies said she and Steve Jones were like a couple of "little balls being tossed around a room".

"The banging, the crashing, the whipping, the crunching, the sloshing - the sounds vibrate through every part of your body," she said.

When their ordeal ended, all they had were head injuries and two small bags of belongings.

Their 11.6m yacht Windigo - their home for a year - and everything in it was abandoned to sink.

Travelling from Tonga to Auckland on a homecoming voyage, the couple had perfect conditions for the first three days and were "sailing like a dream", said Ms Davies, 43.

But halfway between Tonga and Fiji, bad weather struck.

The yacht started being "slammed down" by the force of the winds and waves, prompting the couple to send out mayday calls.

They activated an emergency beacon on Wednesday afternoon.

As the storm continued to rage, damage to the yacht worsened.

Its steering and engine were disabled, the hatch was broken and the inside was damaged.

The broken hatch meant water continually flooded the boat and, because the bilge tank was broken, they couldn't pump it out.

"We can't remember it because we've only realised today that we were knocked unconscious and we didn't realise at the time," said Ms Davies.

The cargo ship Chengtu diverted from its course to Los Angeles and travelled for 15 hours to reach the damaged yacht.

As it neared the vessel on Thursday night, it was hit by gales and and sea swells of up to 9m, said its master, Norman McNee.

"It was pretty bad. From the point of view of a small yacht it would be pretty towering seas."

Because of the darkness and bad weather, the crew of the Chengtu waited until sunrise to attempt a rescue.

The cargo ship manoeuvred until it was parallel to the damaged yacht to provide some shelter from the weather and the couple were swung to safety in a sling.

They were "a little bit shell-shocked but very grateful for the rescue", Mr McNee said.

Ms Davies said she did not know if she and Mr Jones, 52, would have made it through another night.

They were checked by a medical officer on board. Both had mild to moderate head injuries and Mr Jones also had a back injury.

"They were very resilient. They had been through a tough time but they bounced back quickly and they're in good spirits again," Mr McNee said.

The Chengtu was last night on its way to meet the frigate HMNZS Otago, which will bring the couple to New Zealand.

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