Highly awarded Californian hero sailors now win New Zealand award

Contis accepting previous award
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They have already won an International Marine Organisation (IMO) award for bravery, a Cruising Club of America Award, and Sail-World made them one of the To Ten Heroes of the Year. Now the Californian couple have been honoured again for their courage and superb seamanship in rescuing three people, including a New Zealand woman, off a stricken yacht south of Fiji. (See Sail-World stories: http://www.sail-world.com/index_d.cfm?nid=63697!IMO, http://www.sail-world.com/index_d.cfm?nid=65737!CCA and http://www.sail-world.com/index_d.cfm?nid=64853!Top_Ten_Heroes.)

Sophie and Maurice Ugo Conti have both been awarded honorary New Zealand Bravery Medals for the rescue which took place early on October 13, 2008.

The citation says the couple and their children aged four and six, were anchored off Vatuele Island, south-west of Suva, on their catamaran, Ocealys, on October 12.

At 11.45pm they picked up a mayday call from Australian boat Timella, which had a New Zealand woman and her hree sailing companions on board.

Timella had struck Takau Lakaleka Reef, south of Viti Levu, and was hard aground. The weather was atrocious, with winds of 30 knots and 3-4m swells.

By 2am on October 13, the Timella was taking on water. It sank 15 minutes later. The mast had punctured the liferaft, which also sank, leaving the crew stranded on the reef.

No other vessel heard the mayday except a cruise ship which was too far away to help.

Mrs Conti managed to call the New Zealand High Commission and later established contact with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ).

It became clear that no other help could reach the stranded trio until at least midday, by which time it would probably be too late.

Realising they were the only hope, the Contis set course for the Timella, 12 nautical miles and more than two hours sailing from their position.

They arrived in the rescue area at 5.30am and searched the area until they spotted three dots on the reef.

After a fruitless search for a way to get close to those on the reef, Mr Conti launched the dinghy while Mrs Conti took control of the Ocealys.

'In what has been described as a brilliant display of seamanship, Mr Conti picked his way through the reef, despite the rough seas, and reached the crew, some of whom were showing signs of hypothermia,' the citation says.

By 6am, Mr Conti had pulled the crew to safety and returned them to the Ocealys.

Throughout the incident, the Contis were the focal point for communication between the crew of the Timella, the High Commission in Suva and the RCCNZ.

'It was this communication that not only assisted the rescue operation but provided a source of hope to those marooned on the reef,' the citation says.

'Had it not been for the courage, determination and superb seamanship of Maurice and Sophie Conti, the lives of crew of the Timella ... would probably have been lost.

'It should be noted that, throughout the rescue, the Contis had to consider the safety of their two young children.'