Monday, January 7, 2013

Akaroa 1/6/2013

The Port of Akaroa has replaced stops in Christchurch, which is still rebuilding from the recent earthquake and is not yet ready to receive tourists. As we dropped anchor in Akaroa it was a beautiful sunny day. We were to continue our train adventures with a ride through the mountains and countryside on the "Transalpine Express". We woke at 6 am to prepare for the earliest of the tours we will be taking.

As we filed into the theatre with our tickets, an announcement came from the Captain. The winds and swells were quite high. He did not know if it would be safe to take the tenders to shore and if sea conditions worsened, if we would be able to return to the ship. He said that he was in communication with the appropriate authorities and would get back to us in an hour. An hour past and we learned that the stop in Akaroa had been canceled and we would be on our way to Wellington. Thus we added another sea day to the trip, settled in for a quiet day and estimated that we had accumulated as many sea days as on a ship's "crossing". Little did we know that an adventure was to occur later in the day.

I quote from the ship's daily newsletter: "The Captain's Log at 17:51 on Sunday, January 6th 2013 on board Seven Seas Voyager recorded a Mayday call issued by the sailing yacht Sea Wanderer who had encountered damage to its sailing equipment and was in difficulty. Under the rules of the sea, the closest vessel is required to immediately alter course, maintain radio contact and offer assistance. Captain John McNeill put the necessary procedures into action and the various teams on board were placed on standby to launch the rescue boat upon arrival. Within 15 minutes, Seven Seas Voyager had reached the stranded yacht and established it was sailing with three male crew members who confirmed that they needed to abandon their vessel.

With swell and wind gusts up to 50 knots, the location of the incident was close enough to land for the option of a helicopter rescue and so the Wellington Coast Guard commenced its own operation to assist. This was considered a safer option than launching the Voyager's rescue boat and the obvious risks this could entail. While ready to do so if the situation worsened, the captain was requested to remain on the scene until the arrival of the helicopter some 40 minutes later. Having successfully shielded the Sea Wanderer from the full force of the elements, the three stranded yachtsmen were successfully rescued within 90 minutes of their Mayday call and flown to Wellington, New Zealand.

While thankfully rare, it was an unexpected blessng for the three sailors, that, unbeknown to them, our ship had earlier cancelled its call into Akaroa because of the adverse weather, and so found themselves nearer to the emergency than they otherwise would have been."

For the passengers the rescue meant that the ship changed course and the stabilizers were no longer in use. We went to the pool deck and could see the yacht as it was battered around in the swells of the water. With no steering capacity, they were at the mercy of the sea. We watched the helicopter arrive, circle twice and come low enough to drop a rope to the yacht. We saw one man lifted into the helicopter and then we returned out of the cold breezes to our room. When the operation was complete we heard the helicopter leave the vicinity. It had been anything but an ordinary sea day and quite a day for the captain.

Please note that my special thanks go to Werner Nysschen, a professional photographer associated with Regent Seven Seas who allowed me to use his pictures on this blog.


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