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Yacht and round-world dream sunk after whale strike

By Sue Richards last modified Jun 18, 2009 04:33 PM

Published: 2009-06-18 16:33:10
Countries: British Virgin Islands

As reported by Daily Echo/Sail-World Cruising

A couple's round-world dream odyssey ended in disaster when their Sovereign 470 yacht sank after hitting a whale in the Caribbean.

Helen and Paul Glavin, from Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth, were living the dream of circumnavigation when the tragedy occurred in rough seas near the British Virgin Islands.

Their yacht, the Helen Mary Gee, struck the whale in the early hours of the morning and threw Helen against the wheel.

She suffered rib injuries, while Paul, who was asleep in the cockpit, was flung on the floor and struck his face.

Feeling nauseous from the blow, Paul checked below but could not see anything wrong.

An hour later, seawater had flooded around the companionway steps with floating floorboards.

Paul, 59, said: “It was really serious.

“Water had gone over the electronics, including the main aerial so we couldn’t put an SOS out.

“Our handheld radio only had a range of 15 miles and the nearest land was 24 miles away.”

Despite their efforts with bilge pumps, by 6am their beloved yacht was sinking.

Armed with a waterproof crash bag containing essentials – GPS, handheld radio, chart, passports, credit cards, biscuits and water – they launched a safety lifeboat and activated an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

Paul was alarmed when Helen refused ‘point blank’ to abandon the boat without her deck sandals.

Helen’s injuries meant she could not swim to the liferaft, so they used another dinghy to reach it.

Paul said: “The most dangerous part was letting go of the boat and dropping back to the life raft because if we missed it, we had missed it.

“We knew the boat was not going to stay up much longer.

“We were trying to survive – there was no time to be upset.”

Helen Mary Gee sank at 7.30am.

The couple watched their ‘beautiful home’ struggle to stay afloat and then finally slip beneath the deep blue water of the Caribbean.

They then began heading towards the nearest island Saba, 24 miles away.

At 8am the French and American coastguards heard one of their continued Mayday calls and another yacht, Dreamcatcher of Jersey, changed course to pick them up.

Once aboard at 10.30am, Helen and Paul sat down with a cup of tea and cried.

Three cabins’ worth of belongings, including a queen-size bed, £600 washing machine and 400 litres of fuel were lost.

The boat was only insured for its hull, deck and rigging and not its contents, so Paul and Helen are trying to approach their travel and household insurance for the remaining items.

Their rescuers Roger and Lucyna Culverwell helped to provide a happy ending when they married onboard Dreamcatcher days later and asked Helen and Paul to be their witnesses before they flew home two weeks ago.

Helen said: “They made us extremely welcome and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

“Roger and Lucyna are coming to stay with us at the beginning of July.

“We’ve started to look at buying another boat because it really is a wonderful life out on the water. At least we got out of it alive and are able to start again.”