Attie Gunter, NSRI Witsand station commander, said; “On Wednesday 15 June at 19h22 NSRI Witsand volunteers were activated following reports of a yacht in unknown difficulties and possibly missing off-shore of Cape Infanta with 4 crewmen onboard.
The wife of the skipper Greg West, from Knysna, reported to an NSRI Knysna volunteer that the yacht Gulliver with skipper Greg West, and his crew Frans Strung, Mike Morek and Shaun Kennedy were sailing in the direction of Cape Town and were known to have passed Mossel Bay but cellphone contact with the yacht had been lost since lunchtime and all efforts to raise the yacht had failed.
Maritime Radio Services had been trying to get into contact with the yacht by VHF Radio and the NSRI Knysna volunteer alerted NSRI Mossel Bay to make enquiries into what assistance the NSRI could offer in the search for (what was at this stage believed to be) the missing yacht. In the mean time NSRI Still Bay, NSRI Witsand and NSRI Agulhas were all placed on high alert as the gravity of the situation surrounding the uncertainty to the fate of the yacht and her crew escalated as the afternoon drew on.
Then it was confirmed that an EPIRB (an Emergency Distress Radio Beacon), normally activated manually or when immersed in water, was intercepted by an international monitoring Maritime Search and Rescue agency and they had alerted South African Maritime Search and Rescue informing that the emergency distress beacon belonging to the Knysna yacht Gulliver was emitting the Emergency Distress Signal some 12 nautical miles off-shore of Cape Infanta.
It was suspected at this stage that the yacht had either capsized or sustained severe damage and the fate of the 4 crewmen was not known.
On learning of the EPIRB activation it was decided that NSRI Witsand (the closest sea rescue station to the EPIRB transmission) would launch our 5.5 meter Rigid Inflatable rescue craft Queenie Payne to respond to the position of the EPIRB to investigate while NSRI Still Bay would send a relief crew to our rescue base in Witsand to launch our 4.5 meter sea rescue craft Falcon Rescuer as back-up while NSRI Agulhas was placed on high alert. (Falcon Rescuer was in fact not launched but only placed on alert to launch if necessary).
Metro EMS and the SA Police Service were activated to respond to our rescue base in Witsand to stand-by.
NSRI Witsand launched our sea rescue craft Queenie Payne at 19h28 with three rescue crew onboard and we negotiated up to 5 meter rough sea swells and a gusting up to 60 knot wind in very dark conditions reaching the general location of the EPIRB transmission and when we reached the general vicinity of where the EPIRB was transmitting we attempted to call the casualty yacht on VHF radio but there remained no response.
We then set off an illuminating flare and after sending up the flare we noticed a small flashing (flickering) light just over one nautical mile away from us and we motored towards the flickering light.
On reaching the flickering light (at around 23h00) we found the upturned (capsized) hull of the yacht (a 40 foot catamaran) and all 4 crewmen were found in a life-raft which they had tied to the capsized hull of their yacht. The men told us that their yacht had been capsized by a sudden extremely strong wind squall at around 13h30 while they were motor sailing and they had manually set off their EPIRB which had required Shaun Kennedy to swim under the yacht to release the EPIRB. They had also all been huddled on the upturned hull of the yacht before releasing the life-raft later in the day – which also required swimming under the yacht.
They explained that at one stage they had managed to activate the life-raft but as it inflated it had suddenly been caught in the strong winds and it began to be blown away from the upturned hull of the yacht but one of the men managed to swim after the life-raft catching up with it and swimming it back to the capsized yacht!
The 4 men were suffering hypothermia and shock (only one of the men was seriously hypothermic) and we took them onto our sea rescue craft and began the difficult task of motoring back towards shore but it was soon evident that our 3 rescue crew and the 4 casualty crew were too heavy for our sea rescue craft Queenie Payne.
At that stage NSRI Agulhas were activated to come to assist us and they launched their 8.5 meter rigid inflatable sea rescue craft Vodacom Rescuer VII and two fishing trawlers that were in the area were requested to be on the lookout for our sea rescue craft which we at this stage were limping back towards shore in huge sea conditions with a very overweight sea rescue craft but managing to just make headway.
But at around 01h00 we limped into Witsand aboard Queenie Payne (after not needing any assistance) and all 4 men have been transported to hospital by Metro EMS ambulance for treatment for hypothermia. All 4 men are in stable conditions and we suspect they will be released from hospital shortly.
A Maritime Navigational warning of the upturned hull of the yacht floating and adrift some 12 nautical miles off-shore of Cape Infanta is broadcast and the fate of the capsized yacht is not known. The NSRI suspect the owners will attempt salvage efforts.
SAMSA (The South African Maritime Safety Authority) will investigate the incident as per standard procedure.”
Follow Up – 16 June 2011:
The crew of Gulliver, skipper Greg West, 60, his crew Frans Sprung, 76, Shaun Kennedy, 34, (all 3 from St Francis Bay) and Mike Morek, from Knysna, have been released from hospital and are to return home.
They had been sailing from Langebaan to Knysna and were attempting to outrun the weather, trying to reach Mossel Bay, when a wind squall capsized their yacht at approximately 13h30 off-shore of Cape Infanta yesterday (15/06).
An emergency EPIRB (Emergency Distress Radio Beacon) was activated by them at around 15h00 but the EPIRB did not transmit the name of the yacht and it was only later in the day, on the insistence of the skippers wife, who convinced authorities that the yacht was missing off Cape Infanta and only later in the day that two and two was put together to suspect that the EPIRB was coming from the yacht Gulliver based on information provided by the skippers wife and based on the last known position of the yacht (before radio and cellphone contact had been lost earlier in the day).
After it became clear that the EPIRB was most likely being transmitted from the stricken yacht a full-scale search and rescue operation was launched.
The crew of Gulliver also set off red distress flares during the afternoon but it remains certain that none of the red distress flares were observed.
The capsized yacht is believed to be adrift on the ocean and Maritime Navigational warnings remain in place.
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