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Oleander in high-seas rescue

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The crew on board the 46ft sailboat <I>Elle</I> get rescued by the container ship <I>Oleander</I> Sunday morning after running into difficulties.

The four-man crew of the Elle were safely on dry land yesterday following a rescue from strong winds and high seas on Sunday.Enjoying the St George’s Dinghy Club, crewman Jim Schweitzel said: “The winds were 40 to 90 knots, with waves bigger than I’ve ever seen them. They looked like houses.“We decided to take a rest and hope that the storm would die down, but it was like sitting in a tomb. Eventually, we decided to call for help.”The 46ft sailboat was one of several vessels involved in the first leg of the NARC rally from Newport, Rhode Island, to Virginia who found themselves battling unexpectedly harsh weather.The boat’s captain and owner, Foster Ashton, said that when the boats first left port on Wednesday, the weather was gusty, but calmed as they approached the gulf stream.However, he said the crew elected to steer away from the recommended route and found themselves pushing against a current, burning through their fuel supply.“By the time we got out of that area, I had about 12 to 15 gallons of reserve fuel and half a tank, not enough to complete the journey in this weather,” he said.He said that the weather rapidly turned to the worse, with powerful gusts and high waves battering the ship. At some point, a hard hit launched Mr Schweitzel across the cabin and into a cabinet, cracking his ribs.The crew attempted to continue to the Island, but as the weather continued to batter the ship the crew decided that they needed assistance.“Eventually, we came to the point of no return,” Mr Ashton said. “I knew for sure we weren’t going to make it.”On Sunday morning, help arrived in the form of the cargo ship Oleander, who was en route to Bermuda and volunteered to assist the wounded vessel.The vessel manoeuvred itself to block Elle from the wind to allow the sailboat to pull alongside, but the damaged vessel struck the Oleander hard attempting to pull next to the ship.“That was the worst part,” Mr Schweitzel said. “I thought, here we are in a 40ft sail boat and here is this 400ft boat. They’re going to run right over us.”The crew of the Oleander worked to pull the crew of the damaged sailboat aboard, but the first sailor to attempt to cross over, Brian Finn, slipped and fell into the water between the two vessels.He remained in the water for close to half an hour as the crew attempted to pull him to safety.Eventually, all four crew members were brought aboard the Oleander and Elle was set adrift. Mr Ashton said: “All the while I was thinking, this didn’t have to happen. That sailboat was my home.”Both men praised the work and efforts of the crew of the Oleander, who they said took them in and did everything possible to help them, from giving them clean clothes to paying for their taxi.“I really cannot say enough about them,” Mr Ashton said.While he said he is extremely disappointed by what happened, he said the most important thing is that the crew is safe and sound.Harsh weather over the past few days has caused chaos for boaters, with Harbour Radio reporting several vessels requiring assistance and two rescues, including that of the Elle.At around 12.20pm on Sunday, cable ship Ocean picked up three crew members around 550 miles southwest of Bermuda from the sailing vessel Spring Moon, which had to be abandoned after encountering weather related difficulties.And sailboat Riot, limped into St George’s Harbour yesterday morning after a series of problems (see separate story).Mark Soares of Bermuda Yacht Services said that numerous boats have turned to the Island in the past few days looking for shelter from the weather.“We have been trying to find space for them all where ever we can,” Mr Soares said.If the ships are waiting for clear weather, they may have to wait awhile. According to the Bermuda Weather Service, winds are expected to remain strong throughout the week with a Small Craft Warning in effect until Wednesday.A deep low to the Island’s southwest is being monitored, with some forecasts suggesting the system could become a subtropical cyclone.

Rescued; crew on board the 46 foot sailboat <I>Elle</I> get rescued by the container ship Oleander Sunday morning after running into difficulties. Here they are shown with members of the <I>Oleander</I> crew.