Capsized Yacht To Be Assessed

A multimillion-pound yacht which capsized mid-race is to be assessed by divers today as attempts to tow it to shore continue.

George David, one of five crew thrown into the Atlantic after his Rambler 100 suddenly flipped over during the Fastnet race off Co Cork, has asked a local tug boat to lead the difficult salvage operation.

Divers have secured ropes to the 100ft yacht and yesterday began towing it upside down the 15 miles into the sheltered Bantry Bay, where a decision can be made on what to do with the 40ft mast.

The boat last night anchored off Barleycove, with divers due to inspect it this morning and try to recover personal items before towing operations continue.

Gerry Smith, skipper of the Wave Chieftain which rescued five of the crew from the sea last night, including skipper Mr David, said salvaging such a huge vessel would be a tough operation.

''It will have to be put into a position were you get up and remove the rigging and get it ready for moving,'' he said.

''You have a 40ft mast and with all the associated rigging.''

Mr Smith took out Mr David and a dive team to inspect the wreckage and attempt to recover passports and other personal items from the cabin yesterday, but were unable to due to conditions.

Mr David said he believed the boat was salvageable.

''This boat will race again. It's a good strong boat and we don't know why the keel fin let go and we'll find that out more when we get a chance to inspect it very closely,'' he said.

''It's a single catastrophic event that had a bunch of consequences the way these things can have. But I think the boat will be salvaged and I think the boat will race again.''

The ocean-going yacht, which was competing at the head of the renowned Fastnet Race when disaster struck, had drifted five miles west since it flipped over south-west of the lighthouse rock at about 6pm on Monday.

Skipper Mr David and his partner Wendy Touton were two of the five crew thrown into the Atlantic swell.

All five linked arms to stay together in the sea for several hours in poor visibility last night. Ms Touton was airlifted to Kerry Hospital with severe hypothermia but has recovered well and was released from hospital.

Another 16 crew members sat on the hull of the upturned yacht awaiting rescue by the RNLI.

Some crew members had been asleep when it capsized and were said to have been lucky to get out.

Mick Harvey, the entry's project manager and an experienced sailor, said he would never forget the harrowing incident.

''It was a scary moment, one that I will never forget. I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am that all of the crew are safe,'' the Australian said.

''Five of the crew were swept away by the waves out of reach of the stricken yacht. The group linked arms, forming a circle.''

The Rambler 100 was leading the monohull fleet and vying for victory in the Rolex Fastnet Race when disaster struck 16 miles (26km) from Baltimore, Co Cork, just before 6pm yesterday.

Mr Harvey said:

''Soon after rounding the Fastnet Rock, the wind went south-west, right on the nose. We were beating into big seas, launching Rambler off the top of full-size waves.

''I was down below with navigator Peter Isler when we heard the sickening sound of the keel breaking off. It was instantaneous - there was no time to react.

''The boat turned turtle, just like a dinghy capsizing. Peter Isler issued a mayday and we got out of there as quickly as we could.''

Transport Minister Simon Coveney said the rescue was a reminder how important it is for Ireland to have well-resourced sea rescue teams.

The crew were looked after by locals in Baltimore after the incident.

''The town of Baltimore has given us a wonderful welcome - I cannot thank our rescuers and the people of this lovely village enough,'' Mr Harvey said.

Irish naval vessel the LE Aoife was standing off the capsized yacht to keep other vessels out of danger.

Some 314 yachts - including six Irish boats - are taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race, having set sail from Cowes on the Isle of Wight on Sunday.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial event takes the fleet 608 miles (978.5km) along the south coast of the UK and across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock off south-west Ireland, before returning around the Scilly Isles to the finish in Plymouth.

The event has a fearsome reputation after the 1979 race which was devastated by strong winds and seas, resulting in 15 deaths.