On Wednesday 15th June at 19h22 NSRI Witsand volunteers were activated following reports of a yacht in unknown difficulties off Cape Infanta with 4 crewmen on board.
The wife of the skipper Greg West, reported to an NSRI Knysna volunteer that the yacht Gulliver with skipper Greg West, and his crew Frans Strung, Mike Morck and Shaun Kennedy were sailing in the region of Mossel Bay and had lost cellphone contact since lunchtime. 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.
In the mean time NSRI Still Bay, NSRI Witsand and NSRI Agulhas were all placed on high alert.
It was then confirmed that an EPIRB (an Emergency Distress Radio Beacon) 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) would launch our 5.5 meter Rigid Inflatable rescue craft Queenie Paine to respond to the position of the EPIRB while NSRI Still Bay would send a relief crew to our rescue base in Witsand as back-up.
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 Paine at 19h28 with three rescue crew on board and we negotiated up to 5m rough sea swells and a gusting up to 60 knot wind in very dark conditions.
We then set off an illuminating flare and noticed a small flickering light just over one nautical mile away from us and we motored towards the 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 the life-raft 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.
NSRI Agulhas were called to assist 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 Paine 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.
Greg West’s wife is commended for raising the alarm.
Update: Crew released from hospital:
The crew of Gulliver, skipper Greg West, 60, his crew Frans Sprung, 76, Shaun Kennedy, 34, 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 Cape Infanta.
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 that it was determined the EPIRB was coming from the yacht Gulliver.
A full-scale search and rescue operation was launched.
The crew of Gulliver also set off red distress flares during the afternoon but none of the red distress flares were seen.
The capsized yacht is believed to be adrift on the ocean and Maritime Navigational warnings remain in place.