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NZ Navy rescues catamaran sailor in Cyclone Gabrielle

by Sail-World and NZ Defence Force 13 Feb 2023 23:15 PST 14 February 2023
NZ Defence rescue catamaran sailor - February 14, 2023 © NZ Defence

A man on a catamaran in distress has been rescued and is safe on board Royal New Zealand Navy frigate HMNZS Te Mana. His anchor broke and he drifted out to sea, close to the centre of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The cyclone which is still active and moving down the NZ coastline is the possibly the worst experienced in NZ history, and is certainly the worst since the devastating Cyclone Bola in 1988. Winds in the area were 50kts gusting 60kts prior to the eye of the cyclone passing through, and had been averaging 60-70kts gusting 70-75kts. Other reports had the wind strength at 80kts and seas described as 6-8metres high. Attempts to take the 70yr old solo sailor off by helicopter failed because of the extreme conditions, that in some cases was beyond the capabilities of the aircraft.

The man was rescued by personnel on a small boat (RIB) launched from Te Mana, while crew on a Northland Rescue Helicopter provided overwatch for the safety of all involved.

Maritime Component Commander Commodore Garin Golding said sea conditions had been challenging and everyone involved was pleased the person was now safe on board the ship.

The plan is to disembark him to shore at Devonport Naval Base Tuesday evening.

HMNZS Te Mana deployed into the Hauraki Gulf on Monday evening as part of the search and rescue mission for the vessel believed to be in distress. The vessel’s anchor cable had snapped, and the yacht had grounded in Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island with strong winds then causing it to drift out to sea.

No air assets were able to reach the vessel at the time due to the severe weather. Te Mana was the best equipped ship to respond to the rescue effort in such testing conditions.

The crew completed a search north of Hen and Chicken Island group overnight.

Earlier this morning, Te Mana received details about the location of the vessel from an emergency locator beacon and sailed to this area, and the man was able to be rescued.

Te Mana circled the vessel several times, waiting for the weather conditions to allow its small boat with four personnel on board to be launched from Te Mana and attempt the rescue. The man, wearing a life jacket, left his vessel and was plucked from the sea by the two Navy divers on board the RHIB.

“We’re very pleased this joint search and rescue has been successful and the person is now safe on board Te Mana,” Commodore Golding said.