A Warkworth sailor who was plucked from rough seas after his yacht sank has met his rescuers and detailed the dramatic moment 16 months on.
Philip van der Mespel spent a night on a life raft after his yacht Waimanu sank 166km east of Norfolk Island early on November 18, 2017.
Accompanied by his wife Jenny and their son Joel, van der Mespel met personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 40 and No. 5 squadrons yesterday to express his gratitude.
"All I want to say is a big thank you to the NZDF – an excellent job done. I'd like to apologise that it has taken me so long to make the connection," he said.
The sailor was battling stormy conditions about 650km northwest of New Zealand on his way home from Vanuatu when his boat's mast broke about 4am.
One of the support blocks for the mast was catapulted out of the boat, ripping a large hole in the deck.
Buffeted by 40-knot winds and five- to six-metre swells, Waimanu, which had been with van der Mespel's family for 43 years, began to take on water.
Initially he thought he could pump the water out but the boat was filling up too fast, so after making three Mayday calls on his VHF and firing three parachute flares, he got ready to abandon ship.
"I winched the life raft right next to the boat and tossed in everything I needed – grab bag, food, bottles of water, first aid kit, clothes, duvet, and a satchel containing my passport, wallet and ship's papers. I was expecting to be in the raft for three or four days," he said.
"The deck of Waimanu was a foot or so above the sea when I stepped off the stricken yacht and into the life raft. As soon as I got the life raft ready, I activated my emergency radio beacon.
"And as soon as I had cut the raft free of the sinking yacht I turned around to take a photo of the boat in her last moments but she was gone."
In New Zealand, the Rescue Coordination Centre picked up the distress call and sent a search and rescue request to the NZDF about 7am.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules, with a crew comprising personnel from No. 40 and No. 5 squadrons, left Auckland about 9am.
With up-to-date information on van der Mespel's location, the crew found the yachtsman within a few minutes of arriving on-scene at 10.46am.
"I thought it was another crashing wave but when I peered out I saw the Hercules flying right over my raft," van der Mespel said.
"When you are floating around in the sea hundreds of miles from anywhere, to see an aircraft come for your rescue is the most reassuring thing in the world."
After reporting the good news, the crew then contacted the nearest ship, commercial vessel MV Norfolk Guardian, to arrange van der Mespel's rescue and dropped a smoke flare to help it locate him.
The Hercules remained at the scene until he was safely on the rescue vessel about 2.30pm.
Squadron Leader Brad Scott, the pilot of the Hercules, said meeting van der Mespel was a special experience for the crew.
"It's very rare for the team to have any further contact with the various people we assist," he said.
"We feel valued and rewarded just by completing the job. The largest satisfaction comes from helping those in need, particularly when someone's life is in danger."