Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sailor Rescued After '21 Days Of Hell'

Rescued sailor Heloise Kortekaas last night had her first bath in three weeks. "It was beautiful," she said from the container ship Encounter, which rescued her and partner Bruce Cox from their stricken yacht about 800km northeast of the Chatham Islands.
The dismasted yacht Janette Gay drifts in heavy seas
Ms Kortekaas turns 46 today and was already celebrating the fact that she was alive after a terrifying ordeal in which their yacht, the 9.7m Janette Gay, lost its mast during a violent storm and one rescue boat had to leave them for calmer seas. "I'm happy and feel very lucky to be alive," she said. "I thought we weren't going to make it there for a while. Very thankful to the ship that came and got us." The pair managed to get the yacht's motor started as the 48,500-tonne Encounter approached just before 6pm last night. They will be taken by helicopter to the Chathams today and then by air ambulance to Christchurch. Fresh from her bath, and about to enjoy a cup of tea and a cigarette, Ms Kortekaas told the Herald that the drama had put them both off sailing for good. "We were out there at the mercy of the sea.
The Janette Gay drifting
I would not take the sea for granted ever again - the power of it is just amazing. "It was a life-changing experience for me and for Bruce. But we'll be fine, and we're happy to be alive. "Bruises will heal." She cannot wait to get back to New Zealand and embrace family and friends. "I now realise how important they are and how unimportant other things are." Safely aboard the container ship and high on life, Ms Kortekaas recalled the "21 days of hell" at sea. "Apparently being at sea is 95 per cent boredom and 5 per cent terror, but for us it was the other way round. "We had one beautiful day and the rest was hell - the God of winds and the sea decided it was going to be hell ... you wouldn't believe the conditions. "We were battered by storms for 18 days. the boat rolled and dismasted but we managed to sail out.
The crew of an air force Orion photographed the yacht Janette Gay before it was dismasted.
"We were inside when it rolled, and had just that morning got off a mayday call at 6.30am. An Orion was overhead and we knew a ship was coming, and the next thing this wave came and tipped us over and broke the mast. "It [the yacht] righted itself, thank God, but it was half-full of water and we had to bail it all out. "Then the cabin roof was torn off. The hatch that keeps it watertight was torn off so we had to repair it as much as we could in stormy conditions. "The rest of the time we tried to keep warm. We rested and chatted. I'm not really religious, but I was hoping and praying it would work out for us. "I'm not quite sure how we made it. We just kept going and did what we had to do, tying ropes as 40-foot (12m) waves crashed over the boat. "Bruce would tie everything down countless times, and he got weaker and weaker and weaker. Even eating food in those conditions was impossible. "It was a matter of how many dozen more bruises would you get if you're trying to eat. It was an effort just to go to the toilet. "We looked death in the eye but we've made it. It wasn't our time to go. It was Bruce's courage and seamanship that got us through. "And then there was the aborted rescue, which just about squashed us. They did their best, but the boat just wasn't the right sort." Ms Kortekaas is in awe of her partner for his perseverance and courage.
An unsuccessful attempt to get the crew of the dismasted yacht Janette Gay on to the freighter Maunakea.
Mr Cox turned 49 on Sunday. "Bruce is in a lot of pain - he hurt his back about 12 days ago. "He was bruised from head to toe but he carried on. He is my hero. He saved my skin." The experience had put both of them off sailing forever, she said. "I won't be going to sea again, and neither will Bruce, even though he's been a seaman all his life." And Ms Kortekaas has no desire to salvage the steel-hulled Janette Gay. "She'll eventually sink." Rescue Co-ordination Centre mission controller Neville Blakemore called the rescue a textbook operation. The Encounter will resume its trip to Panama after heading back towards the Chathams. Rescue centre spokesman Steve Corbett said a Westpac rescue helicopter and an air ambulance would fly to the islands today.
Map of rescue area.
"We're all delighted to be able to get these two back to friends and family shortly." Ms Kortekaas' mother, Anastasie, shared the couple's relief. "When I heard they were put on that boat and rescued it was just such an exhilarating feeling," she said from her home in Christchurch. It was good to know "that terrible storm and everything they went through was over". A cousin of Mr Cox told Close Up the family were most grateful. "It's a huge 'thank you' from myself and all the family and I know that just about the whole of Lyttelton know Bruce and they will be clapping and thanking them also."

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