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Dramatic rescue off Achill saves sailor’s life

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LOST AT SEA The Cariberia yacht pictured at the start of the Ostar and Twostar yacht race at Plymouth before an electronic fault resulted in a loss of power and cast the yacht adrift in the Atlantic.

Anton McNulty

AN English yachtsman who went missing for over 48 hours during a transatlantic race owes his life to a dramatic rescue 40 miles west of Achill.
Fifty-six-year-old Neil Payter was taking part in the Ostar and Twostar yacht race from Plymouth in England to Newport in Rhode Island when race directors lost track of him in the Celtic Sea south of the Irish coast.
The 3,000-mile transatlantic race, hosted by the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth, started on Sunday, May 15, with up to 20 boats taking part.
Mr Payter was sailing solo on the ten-metre-long racing yacht, ‘Caliberia’, when strong wind and big seas caused the electronics to fail.
He lost all control of his vessel, as the steering and the sail are operated electronically. Unable to direct the vessel or lower the sail, he was at the mercy of the wind. Quickly thrown off course, he drifted along the Irish coast, unable to make contact with anyone with the tracker unresponsive.
The Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon remained intact, which falsely suggested to race organisers that the skipper was in control. However, after no contact for over 48 hours, the organisers contacted the Coast Guard in Britain to launch a search operation.
A fixed wing aircraft was deployed by the British Coast Guard, which searched along the west coast. On Sunday evening, the Caliberia was spotted approximately 40 miles west of Achill Head.
The Malin Head Coast Guard was contacted, and the Achill Island RNLI was tasked to assist the sailor and the racing yacht.

14-hour rescue operation
The Trent class lifeboat launched at 8.30pm under Coxswain Dave Curtis with a crew of six onboard, including mechanic Michael Cattigan and Terry Hogarth, Ken Quinn, Ivan Swarbrigg, Stephen McGreal and Thomas Ruddy.
The Sligo-based Irish Coast Guard Helicopter, Rescue 118, was later deployed to confirm the location of the yacht and provide light for the lifeboat crew, who arrived in fading light. Northwesterly winds with Force 3-4 sea conditions began to calm during late morning.
The lifeboat met with the yacht at approximately 11pm with Mr Payter onboard, who despite being tired from his ordeal, was physically well. Once on scene, Rescue 118 departed and the lifeboat crew carried out an assessment of the yacht, which was found to be in good condition. 
After a risk assessment, it was decided to tow the yacht to nearest safe port. This was Clare Island, as the port at Achill was too shallow for the vessel.
Establishing a tow proved challenging with the sail remaining up amid 1.5- to 2-metre swells, but the efforts of the crew meant that a safe tow was eventually established. The towing operation began in the early hours of the morning and continued overnight. 
The lifeboat and the yacht reached Clare Island at 8.55am on Monday morning, where the yacht was safely moored. Happy that the sailor was well and recovering from is ordeal, the volunteer crew left Clare Island at 9.10am and arrived back to Achill Island shortly before 10am, having spent almost 14 hours at sea.
Speaking after the call out, Ciaran Needham, Achill Island RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, said: “We were delighted to be able to assist in this multi-agency rescue during the night, which thankfully resulted in the safe rescue of a lone sailor.
“Our crew worked hard in difficult conditions throughout, and we want to thank all those who helped make their task easier than it might otherwise have been. The Irish Coast Guard at Malin Head excellently coordinated the rescue, and we are grateful to the crew of Rescue 118 for their help and assistance when we reached the lone sailor, who thankfully, is safe and well.”