At 10h30, Friday, 17th October, NSRI Richards Bay crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority to assist a British solo sailor Mike Bickell (Michael Bickell), 78 years old, reporting to be struggling to make headway in adverse sea conditions in a severe storm approximately 15 nautical miles North of Richards Bay aboard his 34 foot yacht SV ALCHEMI (last Port of call Reunion).
Mike had sent out a VHF radio call for assistance (A “Pan Pan” distress radio broadcast) which was intercepted by another vessel at sea who relayed the distress call to the Transnet National Ports Authority.
It appears that the sailor had neared a rocky part of the coastline, off-shore of Dawsons Rocks, and some steering damage and sail damage caused by the storm and the solo sailor had requested assistance.
Our crew launched our sea rescue craft SPIRIT OF RICHARDS BAY and responded.
On arrival on-scene, in up to 8 meter rough sea swells and a gusting to 50 knots South Westerly wind, attempts were made to pass a tow-line to the casualty but it became apparent that the solo sailor was not able to attach the tow-line to his yacht. NSRI rescue swimmer Hillegard Holtzhausen was deployed into the surf, swam to the yacht and once onboard the yacht the tow-line was again passed across to the yacht using a ‘ heaving line’. Hillegard attached the tow-line and remained with Mike, assisting the solo sailor in the very rough seas while our sea rescue craft towed the yacht to Richards Bay Port, at times making only a 2 knot headway.
Sea conditions increased to up to 10 meter swells during the tow effort.
The yacht was towed safely to the Port of Richards Bay arriving at 22h00 and NSRI Richards Bay launched our sea rescue craft SPIRIT OF ROUND TABLE to assist in getting the casualty yacht to a mooring and once safely berthed no further assistance was required.
Solo sailor Mike was seen to again this morning and he has thanked all services involved, NSRI Richards Bay, the vessel that relayed his distress call, the Transnet National Ports Authority and Telkom Maritime Radio Services (who are further commended for assisting with radio communications throughout the rescue operation made difficult by the adverse sea conditions).
Mike also gave heartfelt thanks to rescue swimmer Hillegard Holthauzen for the gallant swim across to his yacht in the very rough seas to attach the tow-line and then staying with him on the yacht throughout the ordeal. In his own words Mike said to please give a special thanks to ‘James Bond’ for diving into the raging seas to come over and help me.
Mike will repair his yacht in Richards Bay and wait for sea conditions to settle down before continuing on his voyage.