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Man ‘lucky not to lose leg’ in fatal crash

A yachtsman involved in a fatal crash said he was lucky not to have lost a leg after a motorboat smashed into his inflatable.

Charlie Watson said his boat did not have lights, but that the collision would not have been as serious if the other boat had been going slower.

Mr Watson told the Supreme Court: “If he was operating between five and ten knots, it would have been a different story. It would have been like bumper cars.

“It would not have gone on me the way he did if he was going a safe speed.”

Prosecutors said that a 17-foot motorboat driven by Andrew Lake, 27, collided with Mr Watson’s craft, which had New Zealand couple Mary and Arthur McKee on board.

Ms McKee, 62, died as a result of the late-night collision on June 1 last year.

Mr Lake has denied a charge of manslaughter.

Mr Watson, from Cornwall, told the court he sailed to the island two weeks before the crash on the Dream Paix — a charter catamaran.

On the night of the crash, he said guests were taken from the catamaran into Hamilton for dinner on board an eight-metre semi-rigid inflatable operated by Helm Events, the company who had hired him.

But when the time came to collect the guests from Barr’s Bay Park, Mr Watson said he was told the boat would not be available.

Instead, he and another skipper brought two smaller semi-inflatables to pick up the guests.

Four of the passengers went into the other skipper’s boat, while Mr and Mrs McKee went in his smaller Zodiac semi-inflatable.

He admitted that none of the group put on life jackets and that the boat did not have any lights.

Mr Watson said: “We made the arrangement to remain within proximity of the other boat as his was a much larger boat and had lights equipped.

“We used him as a shield to travel safely and at safe speed through the harbour.”

He added that his boat was the slower of the two so both remained at around four knots, with the second boat trailing around five metres to the rear right of his.

Mr Watson said: “It was a clear night. The wind was negligible. I felt quite comfortable.”

He told the court the boat was starting to approach White’s Island when he first saw Mr Lake’s boat only a few feet away.

Mr Watson said: “I was regularly turning around — you look all around you at night time because it’s harder to see vessels.

“At this particular point I turned around and saw a white hull of a power boat, a speed boat, around six to eight feet away.

“He collided straight into us from behind. It all happened so quickly I had no time to react.”

He told the court he fell backwards out of the boat and into the water.

Mr Watson added: “Eventually I resurfaced and the first emotion was of shock, confusion and surprise.

“I then felt my left leg floating to the surface without me telling it to.

“It was a mess. I realised I was in serious danger and I needed to get out of the water as quickly as possible.”

He told the court he was bleeding heavily as he swam to the other skipper’s boat.

He added: “I asked to have a rope, any rope, tied around my leg as the blood loss was quite substantial.

“There was a short point of time where they were trying to find Arthur and Mary.

“They made the decision to move people around and take me to shore as they already had made a mayday call and there was an ambulance waiting.”

He told the court the boat’s propeller had slashed his left leg, leaving wounds that required 117 staples.

Mr Watson showed the jury scars on his leg and said: “I lost about 70 per cent of my calf here, which has a skin graft on it.”

Under cross-examination by Jerome Lynch, defence counsel for Mr Lake, Mr Watson said he knew his tender should have had lights.

He added: “That is why I took the precautions I did.”

Mr Watson admitted he did not know if the boat he was travelling in front of had a light at the rear.

He told the court he had not been briefed specifically about marine safety in Bermuda but was a qualified international yachtmaster.

Mr Watson said he had done his own research, and was aware the speed limit in the harbour had been reduced from 20 knots to ten knots for the America’s Cup.

Mr Lynch asked Mr Watson if it would have been safer to take all the guests on the larger inflatable piloted by the second skipper because it had lights.

Mr Watson agreed — but said he had been told the other boat was only licensed to carry four passengers.

He added the larger boat could have made two trips.

He said: “It would have taken far longer, but yes.”

But he added: “We felt comfortable with the situation we had.”

The trial continues.

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