UK

Yacht crews rescued after Atlantic storm

Yachts leaving Plymouth
Image caption The yachts left Plymouth at the start of the race to Rhode Island

A major rescue operation has taken place in the mid-Atlantic after a fleet of yachts that set out from the UK was hit by a "once in a lifetime" storm.

Luxury ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 has rescued lone yachtsman Mervyn Wheatley after he issued a mayday.

A massive storm, which saw 15m waves and 60-knot winds, left a number of yachts in trouble.

The boats are competing in a transatlantic race hosted by Plymouth's Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC).

A Cunard spokesman said that the QM2 was involved in a rescue operation "at the request of the US Coastguard".

Mr Wheatley is now on board the QM2, is said to be safe and well and is now on his way to Halifax.

One race yacht sank, and another lost its mast. The race began on 29 May.

The Canadian Armed Forces says a fourth yacht has also declared an emergency but it is not known if this vessel is part of the race.

The transatlantic race involves 22 boats made up of solo sailors and crews of two, racing race from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island in the US.

The RWYC said it has been liaising with coastguard teams and says everyone is now safe.

Mr Wheatley, 73, from Newton Ferrers near Plymouth, scuppered his yacht Tamarind after it was knocked sideways and a porthole was smashed sending water flooding into the boat.

His wife Penny told the BBC the yacht was knocked over during a hurricane on Friday at about 02:00 BST.

"He was down below when the mast went under water.

"It meant everything was thrown across the cabin and he thinks some plywood went through the porthole and in came the water."

'Arduous conditions'

She also said he scuppered the boat so it would not be a danger to other shipping.

"He is fine, just tired. He has never lost another boat. The last 36 hours have been a nightmare, because she could have gone down with him on board.

"There's no way he would have survived on a life-raft in those conditions."

Image caption The Queen Mary 2 is on a cruise to Halifax in Canada

John Lewis, race director for the RWYC, told the BBC that three race competitors gave off emergency signals, and a further two needed help from the Canadian coastguard in Halifax.

"I've been involved with these races for 25 years now, and this is the most extreme low depression going across the Atlantic at this time of year.

"So it's very unusual, but these are professional sailors, they're used to arduous conditions but not really a once in a lifetime storm like this one."

The captain of Queen Mary 2, Chris Wells, said Mr Wheatley had been found in "big seas" with high waves, and was brought aboard via the ship's rescue boat.

Mr Wells added: "He is very happy to be here. I think he will have a much more leisurely and luxury transit to the other side of the Atlantic than he would have done in his 38-foot boat."

A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said an RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft had been sent from the UK to help by providing top cover and communications assistance.

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