Rogue wave swamps yacht, two in lucky rescue

Manfred Jabbusch is helped to an ambulance while Heinz Fragner thanks his rescuers
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The danger of an unexpected rogue wave is ever present, no matter where you are sailing, and this story shows how important back-up systems are for the cruising sailor.

The US Coast Guard has rescued two sailors this week, 120 miles southeast of the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, when a rogue wave hit their boat during conditions which were described as high but not particularly rough. The wave broke the mast of the 45ft sailing boat Eva, and the yacht began taking on water.

'If you hit a monster wave, you have no chance to survive,' Manfred Jabbush of Germany remarked after the incident, in which he and his fellow crewman were rescued, but lost their boat to the ocean.

Jabbush and his longtime sailing buddy Heina Fragner of Austria were sailing their 45ft boat from Florida to Greece when the seas became very large - 20-30 feet. However, as the distance between crests was very long, neither of the experienced sailors were worried.

Their enjoyable sail came suddenly to an end after the rogue wave capsized the yacht, breaking the mast and the hatchways and portholes and tearing up part of the deck. The bilge pumps were also out of action, all their food was lost and the yacht began to take on water. While their life raft was intact, the GPS system and the radio were also damaged and no longer working.

With an old hand-held GPS they had stowed away and was not damaged by the capsize they established their position and used a satellite telephone, which had also survived, to call for help. They phoned a German rescue station which connected them to the Coast Guard Command Center in Boston.

Less than two hours later the two sailors were hoisted by an Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 helicopter crew and flown to the Coast Guard air station in Bourne, Mass.

They were taken to Falmouth Hospital, but released after an examination, both in good condition. Both men praised the speed and efficiency of the rescue authorities who saved their lives.

'It is a very bad thing to lose the boat,' Fragner told Cape Cod Times after the incident. 'It will take days or weeks to understand all this. It is very sad when you lose it. Of course, life is more important,' he said.

Incidents like this are a heads-up for all cruising sailors who go 'off the beaten track'. Yacht communication systems need a back-up, one that is secured in a place unlikely to be compromised when the unexpected happens.