Volunteer sailors winched down to rescue sailing boat

Northland helicopter in action
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Usually Sail-World Cruising's rescue stories involve cruising sailors being lifted off boats and flown to shore and safety. But this week some volunteer sailors were flown to a sailing boat to replace the injured skipper and his non-sailing wife and sail the yacht back to harbour.

The two boaties are being praised after being winched onto the yacht in 30-knot winds and sailing it to shore. The yacht's skipper had lost a finger in an incident off the Northland coast of New Zealand.

St John Northland operations manager Tony Devanney said the Northland Electricity rescue helicopter was called in to rescue the 61-year-old skipper early yesterday after he lost the finger while wrestling with an anchor chain in heavy seas

The man, who has a forty year sailing career, and his wife were sailing their 14-metre yacht Bintang from Waiheke Island around Cape Reinga and towards New Plymouth when the incident happened about 12 nautical miles off shore.

Mr Devanney said before the rescue chopper left Whangarei, St John rang Whangarei marina and two boaties, Boyd Smith and Daniel Mann, agreed to be flown to the vessel, be winched aboard and then sail it back to Whangarei.

So two were winched up and two were winched down.

'The skipper did a very good job to sail the boat closer to shore so we could complete the rescue easier, but the real good news is these two yachties dropping everything to help out,' Mr Devanney said. 'They didn't hesitate and were only too happy to go.'

The chopper reached the boat about 3pm yesterday and lowered winchman Wally Mitchell aboard to effect the swap.

He said the rescue was particularly difficult given the 30-35 knot winds. 'With the mast and stay going all over, it was a tricky winch but we safely got them off in minimal time and back to Whangarei Hospital,' he said.

At time of writing, the two volunteer sailor were still sailing the yacht to harbour.