AZORES RESCUE OPS: 12 Crew Recovered Off 5 Yachts; One Young Girl Dead

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Swan 44

Bummer. Here I was looking forward to telling you guys all about the singlehanded passage I just did on Lunacy from St. Martin to Bermuda and instead I think I better go into this first. Details are pretty sketchy, but it seems five different yachts caught in a bad blow about 500 miles south of the Azores all called for help two days ago. A large SAR operation coordinated out of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, which involved five different aircraft and four different ships, resulted in a dozen people being rescued. Tragically, one of these, a 6-year-old French girl who spent seven hours in the water after her family’s Lagoon 400 catamaran capsized and sank, died from hypothermia after she was recovered.

According to the best info I can cobble together right now the yachts involved were as follows:

Kolibri, Norwegian flag (evidently a Swan 44, see photo up top), with four crew aboard between ages 45 to 56 recovered by a Portuguese EH-101 helicopter. Kolibri reportedly had suffered a capsize and two knockdowns and had no engine or communications when her crew abandoned her. One crew member was injured, possibly with broken ribs.

Here’s a viddy of their rescue:

Rêves D’ô, French flag, a nearly new Lagoon 400 S2, with a family of four aboard. The boat reportedly capsized and sank; there may also have been a fire onboard at one point. The mother, Sophie, age 37, and the older son, Hugo, age 9, made it into a liferaft and were recovered by M/V Yuan Fu Star, a bulk carrier out of Hong Kong. The father, Claude, age 39, and the younger daughter Inès, age 6, did not make the raft and were afloat for seven hours in life jackets before being spotted by a search plane and recovered by M/V Ezperanza del Mar, a Spanish hospital ship. Inès passed away soon afterward.

Ines and dad

Inès and her dad aboard their boat. The family was apparently doing a circumnavigation together. You can check their blog site here

Manca 3, U.S. flag, with two crew aboard recovered by M/V Archangelos Gabriel.

Gandul, Dutch flag, with two crew, ages 45 and 56, recovered by M/V Cafer Dede, a container ship.

Missy 32, Swedish flag, with two crew who ultimately declined assistance from M/V Esperanza del Mar and continued on their passage

According to Portuguese authorities the five boats were caught in a low-pressure system that deepened dramatically over a short period of time. Wind speeds of over 50 knots were reported.

Here’s a preliminary surface chart for 0600 UTC on May 6 that shows the low in question over the Azores.

Surface chart

I dealt with the front trailing off this same system during my passage (more on that later). I also spoke to several people in Bermuda who were aboard boats there when the low passed just north of there. They reported winds up to 45 knots inside St. George’s Harbor.

I’m not going to do any kibitzing here, beyond noting that it is a little early in the season to be doing the run east across the Atlantic to Europe. (I know, I know. This from a guy who got in big trouble last year going to the W’Indies from New York in January!) And the weather this spring has seemed more unstable than usual. We’ve still got deep winter-type lows rolling off North America, and, believe it or not, there’s already a named tropical system stewing in its own juice right off Florida.

You climate-change deniers can go ahead and deny all you want, but us ocean sailors know that the weather is not nearly as friendly as it used to be.

Mostly, though, I’m just agonizing over the loss of that little girl! My heart goes out to her family.

And major kudos to all the SAR personnel and vessel crews that helped recover the other survivors. These included a U.S. Coast Guard flight crew on a C-130 Hercules search plane out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, who happened to be exercising with the Portuguese in the Azores at the time. They stood by and assisted the Portuguese helo crew that recovered the Norwegians.

SOURCES: Pilot Online; revesdo.over-blog; Fleet Mon; France 24; Cruisers Forum

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18 Responses
  1. Spencer

    That is just terrible. Five apparently able boats and crew. A hell of a storm. The Azores are a good place to find battered boats–but they almost always limp in.

  2. Nigel

    50 knts in open sea should not cause any issues…unless the people and or vessels concerned were not up to scratch

  3. Geir Olav

    As a point of departure, I agree with Nigel. I have however experienced potentially very dangerous seas as well as harmless wave-conditions in similar wind speed on Atlantic crossings to the Azores. So I guess its a mix of vessels, human factors and unfavourable conditions. To Charles: From the video footage it is quite clear that Kolibirs engine was operational during the rescue. This was also reported in Norwegian news media. In fact, after being abandoned, the boat circles to windwards and seemingly endangered the last crew member. Hence your statement on the engine is clearly wrong, please correct.

  4. Charlie

    @Geir: I’m afraid I have no firsthand knowledge of what happened aboard Kolibri. An engine failure was reported. I used the term “reportedly” in describing it.

  5. Vanessa

    Thank God, and thank you rescue teams who continue to put themselves in dangerous situations to rescue us sailors. The rescue video is inspirational and educational. However bad the situation on board, it takes faith in rescuers ability, to leave your vessel and jump into that kind of sea. That video illustrates well what the rescuers need us to do. Thank you for posting it. Hopefully most of us will never need to use this knowledge!

  6. Hagon

    It seems to me that yet again crew are abandoning a perfectly sound, floating boat. The jib is furled, the main is lashed to the boom and warps are being trailed to slow her down under bare poles. It amazes me how many people go to sea with the thought that they will always be rescued! I was always taught that you should step up into a liferaft, not down. To call the rescue services out for this seems farcical.
    Fabulous rescue services available in this tricky bit of ocean, but to be rescued from a good, sound boat, then leave it floating as a hazard to shipping is almost criminal!

  7. Andy Burton

    This man-made-climate-change denier had a lovely crossing in March. That being said, yes, it is early for a crossing. You run a risk of encountering weather like these folks did. It has been that way for a long time, this bout was nothing particularly unusual.
    Nice to see you and Lunacy in Bda last week.

  8. Charlie

    @Andy: Yes, you certainly did! And I didn’t know you are one of those denial guys. Maybe we should have a conversation about that someday. Or not. It was certainly nice seeing you in BDA. Congrats on another successful delivery.

    @Hagon: Given we know almost nothing about what was happening aboard that boat, I am reluctant to draw those sorts of conclusions. To each his own!

  9. fam ous

    Apparently, S/Y Kolibri was going to downwind. Regarding they trail a rope on the back, to put the nose into the wind, is this a tactical movement to abandon the boat?

  10. Bia

    Does anyone know what happened with the abandoned yachts? Have cruising friends now sailing towards the Azores from WI who want to avoid coliision risk… How many boats were left floating and where?

  11. Charlie

    @Spencer: There’s definitely a story here, but to get all the info one would need to track down all these crews that got on ships. That will take a little while.

    @Bia: I would assume the abandoned boats were left floating, though one or more may have been scuttled. I suggest contacting the Coast Guard for approximate positions. They normally try to track vessels that are adrift.

  12. Siesta

    my thoughts are with the family who lost a daughter…… I have to agree with earlier comments re; the swan. She seemed in pretty good shape to me. An engine is not a safety feature at sea in my opinion and the sails and rig look sound. One crew needed assistance by all accounts but 4 uninjured crew should have been able to avoid an abandonment , too much reliance on rescue crews. Possibly the most dangerous part of the trip was the helicopter rescue itself, endangering the heli crew in the process.

  13. Charlie

    @famous: They were definitely going downwind and seem to have been running off under bare poles. I would assume the rope they were trailing, with perhaps a drogue of some sort at the end, was to slow them down while doing so, not as an abandonment tactic. It appears the boat rounded up as soon as the helm was abandoned. I don’t really see any evidence the boat was under power, as Geir suggests, but it may have been. Personally, I wouldn’t want the engine running in gear while trailing a warp or while jumping off.

    @Siesta: Yes, all our thoughts should be the family. And again, I don’t think we have near enough information about what was happening on the Swan to make judgments about their decision.

    @Nigel: Reports of 50 knot winds may not be definitive. The wind could have been much stronger when all the damage was done. Also, what causes the damage isn’t the wind so much, but the waves. The sea state must have been pretty intense to flip a Lagoon cat.

  14. Peter Jolliffe

    Lagoon yachts are fantastic and very safe! The 400 s2 can handle those conditions.
    Sure the whole story will come out.
    That is really sad news about the girl. Our thoughts are with the family

  15. WD

    Kolibri was sighted around 400nm south west of the Azores on the 6 june. the yacht seemed to be in excellent condition for something that i had been abandoned a month ago. the rig was still intact, if a little loose. Steering cable was broken but from the video this apeared to have happened after the rescue. in my personal oppinion they still had the engine running during the rescue but who can know for sure except them onboard. However, seeing the condition of the boat after a month it is difficult to understand why they abandoned so early.

  16. CaptnJP

    Lagoon yachts are fantastic and very safe! The 400 s2 can handle those conditions.
    Sure the whole story will come out.
    That is really sad news about the girl. Our thoughts are with the family

    Yet they capsized and abandonned while a 32′ monohull continued through storm…
    Catamarans are not ocean going vessels.

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