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Solo Sailor Rescued after drifting for 11 weeks

By Sue Richards last modified Apr 25, 2012 09:05 PM

Published: 2012-04-25 21:05:53
Topics: Safety and Medical
Countries: South Africa , Sweden , United Kingdom

As reported by The Independent Online

Sailor safe after 80 days lost at sea

After 80 days alone at sea in a yacht with a broken mast, 66-year-old Swedish yachtsman Stig Lundvall was rescued by a Greek ship about 350 nautical miles off Richards Bay last week and brought to Cape Town at the weekend.

He had just 10 litres of water left and only one more emergency flare when he saw the lights of a ship in the distance. He was drifting with the currents in his crippled boat as he had been doing since January 30 when a violent storm had smashed his mast off the coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Lundvall knew the ship would never see his tiny craft a nautical mile away on the dark night sea. He was not even sure it would see his flare.

He had only three flares on board, and had already used two of them when he had spotted other ships in the distance some time earlier. But on both occasions his emergency signals were unseen.

With what must have taken enormous control, Lundvall held on to the flare until he reckoned the ship was as close as it would get on its current course, then squeezed the trigger that set off the signal.

“I had to wait until the last moment. At first I thought the ship didn’t see me because it was still passing by. But it was a big ship and it is slow to stop. Then I saw it had stopped… It was a good feeling.”

Lundvall was speaking from his home town of Västerås on Tuesday, about 100km west of Stockholm.

He said he was in good health, although he had lost 20kg, much of it muscle.

“I am skin and bone. Normally I am 85kg, and I was 65kg when I got on to the ship. I am very weak still, I will need to build my strength again and my balance is not so good. I can look drunk when I walk.”

Lundvall had been on a solo voyage to Australia on his 26ft Marieholm yacht Sea Star. He had sailed from Falmouth in the UK in early January.

Danny Jenni, co-ordinator of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town was contacted by one of Lundvall’s friends on February 27.

“His friend said Lundvall was a week overdue. Normally we are not too concerned by about a week, depending on the weather, but we sent a broadcast with a request to all vessels in our search and rescue area to be on the lookout…

“After one and a half months, we had not heard anything. The MRCC in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Réunion and here were all alerted because he could have been sailing through their areas. We couldn’t pinpoint where he had gone missing.”

Lundvall estimates it was about 400 nautical miles off Durban.

“It was a very heavy storm that blew up quite quickly in the middle of the night, actually at 3am. I was awake because it was impossible to sleep because of the noise.

“I thought it was raining, but it was the spray from the waves against the boat.”

The force of the wind snapped the mast. For some days afterwards, he was at the mercy of the currents, which took him in circles. His radio was not working and he had no back-up. In the days after the storm, he managed to jury-rig an emergency mast.

“With that I could do a little bit of sailing. It took me one or two weeks to get a course but mainly it was just the currents that took me.”

He rationed his food, and supplemented his bottled water by collecting rain in buckets and plastic containers.

Asked if he would sail again, he replied: “Oh yes. But not long-distance. Never again across oceans.”