Supply ship rescues sailor

STEPHEN PULLINGER An 83-year-old sailor was the decidedly red-faced figure at the centre of a Captain Calamity-style rescue drama yesterday after his yacht ran aground off the Norfolk coast.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

An 83-year-old sailor was the decidedly red-faced figure at the centre of a Captain Calamity-style rescue drama yesterday after his yacht ran aground off the Norfolk coast.

With his 28ft fibreglass craft in danger of breaking up under the pounding of 3ft waves, war veteran Peter Almond made an emergency call to coastguards to say he was in trouble - but mistakenly gave his position as south-east of Lowestoft instead of his real location on the treacherous Scroby Sands, north of Yarmouth.

Lowestoft lifeboat was launched straight after the 9am mayday call but the puzzled crew inevitably found no trace of the yacht Femme Chic and its single-handed sailor.

As Mr Almond's predicament became increasingly grave in Force 6 conditions, he luckily found a saviour in the Scroby Sands windfarm supply vessel Celtic Warrior that was only a mile from the position where he had run aground on a sandbank.

By the time he had been lifted from his stricken craft and dropped off at Town Hall Quay in Yarmouth, the pensioner from Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, was visibly embarrassed to be greeted by a photographer and camera crew.

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He blamed an error in the GPS navigation system that he had borrowed from Lowestoft Yacht Club for veering off course and running aground and giving a faulty position.

“I was just unfortunate and I have nothing to add, but I am very grateful to the people who came to my aid,” said Mr Almond, who had been working his way round the coast on a voyage from Lowestoft to Wisbech.

“I have built boats and been sailing all my life, and the last time I had to be rescued was when I was torpedoed off Ireland on September 8, 1944 when I was in the merchant navy - it happened twice because our rescue boat was torpedoed as well.”

He said one bright side to the drama was that his rescuers had estimated his age in his 60s rather than in his 80s.

Celtic Warrior captain Ivan Jones, 54, said: “We had dropped some technical staff off at the windfarm and were just settling down to read the paper when we heard the mayday call.

“We started heading to the position that had been given off Lowestoft but then actually sighted the yacht only about one mile away, taking a real pounding from the waves.

“After calling Caister lifeboat we reached the sandbank and managed to get the bow of our boat over the stern of his yacht to lift him off. It would have been touch and go if he had had to wait for the lifeboat because it arrived 15 minutes after us and the yacht was taking a real pounding. She was hard aground and being hit by 1m waves.”

Paul Williams, coxswain of Caister lifeboat Bernard Matthews 11, which towed the yacht into Yarmouth, said: “He was lucky especially given his age, which was a big factor.

“When we arrived the yacht was just drifting on to the bank and it was definitely in danger of breaking up. It is amazing that there seems to be no serious damage.”

Coastguard watch officer Wayne Brunning confirmed that Lowestoft lifeboat had already started the search before Celtic Warrior luckily came to the rescue.

He said: “We have inspected the GPS system and it appears there was nothing wrong with it. It seems that it was just the weather that pushed him off course.”

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