Captain Calamity sets off

STEPHEN PULLINGER Coastguards and lifeboatmen braced themselves yesterday as Viking yachtsman Erik Ramgren finally left Yarmouth to restart his epic voyage of a lifetime.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Coastguards and lifeboatmen braced themselves yesterday as Viking yachtsman Erik Ramgren finally left Yarmouth to restart his epic voyage of a lifetime.

Standing bolt upright at the wheel of his home-made catamaran as she was towed through Haven Bridge by a fishing boat, the 66-year-old stared ahead intently, making just the slightest stiff hand gesture that looked suspiciously like a prayer.

And with no keels to give his 38ft craft stability in the open sea, few experts give him a prayer of a chance of making it to the Canaries, the supposed next stop on his voyage to the Caribbean.

Even Erik seemed more than a little doubtful himself before setting off from his mooring at Burgh Castle, on the Broads near Yarmouth, yesterday morning.

"Without keels I don't know how she will behave, especially sailing across the wind. I know am taking a big chance and it could be a catastrophe," he said.

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Coastguard watch manager Mario Siano, who gave telephone advice to Erik before he set off, said: "The problem is there are no powers to stop a private sailor even going to sea in a bathtub. We can't impound a private vessel."

Although Erik has a radio on board - a glaring omission when he first ran aground on Scroby Sands off Yarmouth last September - coastguards are concerned it is only a VHF one with a 30-mile limit.

Erik informed Mr Siano that, following his tow by fisherman Paul Lines, he was intending to anchor outside the harbour and wait for a favourable tide before setting sail.

The hull and keels of his 38ft boat, Turbolaans Absolut, were badly damaged in the accident that brought him to Norfolk.

He had to be rescued by Caister Lifeboat whose crew took him to their heart and launched an appeal to help him.

Reading of his plight in the EDP, Charles Dunstone, chief executive of the Carphone Warehouse, paid for costly repairs to the hull and keels at Goodchild Marine boatyard, in nearby Burgh Castle.

However, in an added twist - that might be branded Captain Calamity 2 - Erik damaged the hull a second time while manoeuvring in the River Waveney last month.

Despite a further appeal in the EDP, no new benefactor could be found and the retired papermill worker said he had no choice but to sail without keels as he could not afford £7,000 for the fresh repairs on his small pension.

He said: "I feel I have no choice but to leave because I have become the local joke. It is either this or setting the boat on fire."

Erik, who has been living on the boat, said the whole saga had caused him stress, and he had been treated at hospital for a high heart rate.

He said of Burgh Castle: "It is a pleasant place but there were several weeks in March when there was a strong east wind blowing and temperatures in my cabin went down to 0C."

John Cannell, of Caister Lifeboat, who watched Erik pass under Haven Bridge, said: "We tried to give him advice but he is a determined man. We told him it is not a good idea to sail without a keel."

Turbolaans Absolut is the 11th boat Erik has built since the age of 12.