Rescued Devon skipper faced 'worst conditions' of his life

Yacht Image copyright AFP
Image caption "It was a shambles," said Mr Wheatley after his yacht Tamarind was damaged by a huge wave

A veteran yachtsman whose boat was severely damaged during a hurricane in the Atlantic said it was the worst conditions he had ever faced.

Luxury ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 rescued solo sailor Mervyn Wheatley, 73, who issued a mayday on Saturday.

A massive storm, which saw 15m waves and hurricane-force winds, left his racing yacht and others in trouble.

Mr Wheatley, from Newton Ferrers near Plymouth, was competing in a transatlantic race.

The race, hosted by Plymouth's Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC), involves 22 boats made up of solo sailors and crews of two, racing from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island in the US.

Eight boats are left in the race, one boat has sunk and Mr Wheatley scuttled his yacht Tamarind after it was knocked over by a massive wave as winds hit more than 73 mph, a hurricane Force 12.

No-one has been seriously injured said the RWYC.

Image copyright RWYC
Image caption "I was asleep when we went over and there was a massive amount of water coming in."

"I have been in a Force 11 before but it seemed to be a lot worse," married father of two and former marine Mr Wheatley told the BBC.

"The sea was much bigger and the waves were huge.

"I was asleep when we went over and there was a massive amount of water coming in."

A smashed porthole was letting in water which he tried to stop by putting a cushion in the hole.

Image copyright Queen Mary 2/Dave Ashley
Image caption The Tamarind as pictured from the deck of the Queen Mary 2

He then spent three hours pumping out water until a Canadian coastguard plane alerted by his automatic rescue beacon arrived.

Mr Wheatley agreed to be rescued realising that his electrics were out and the steering was broken.

"It was a shambles," he said.

"There was food all over the place and water up to the floorboards.

Image copyright RWYC
Image caption The Tamarind was scuttled so it would not be a threat to other shipping

"I realised that I could not make it the 1,500 miles back to the UK."

He said he had never been frightened during the experience.

"I was too busy trying to sort things out to get worried or frightened," he said.

He was rescued thanks to some "excellent seamanship" by a tender from the Queen Mary 2 which had been en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Southampton.

He is now looking forward to returning by plane on Wednesday.

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