Nelson Coastguard volunteer Haden McCrorie won the volunteer of the year award at the regional Coastguard awards recently. He is up for the national award later this month. Photo: Andrew Board.

What a rescue! Coastguard pulls off daring yacht rescue

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When Nelson Coastguard member Haden McCrorie jumped onto a yacht, battered from two days at sea in “horrific weather”, it was the easy part of the rescue.

The hard part was figuring out how to sail the yacht, and then getting it and its two exhausted crew into calm waters in the middle of the night five months ago.

The nine-hour mission, involving most of the Nelson Coastguard crew, earned Haden the “Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year” award at the regional Coastguard awards last month. The yacht, which started sailing from Wellington on route to Auckland, got into trouble when it hit Cook Strait in bad weather. A big wave meant the yacht took on water which destroyed its electrics, including its navigational equipment and motor.

They were eventually pushed near D’Urville Island and that is when the Nelson Coastguard got the call to help at about 6pm.

Haden says plenty of planning took place before they took off but finding the yacht was tough because of its damaged navigational equipment. A passing ship found it on its radar and pointed the Coastguard in the right direction. After some searching they found the yacht getting battered by the sea and its two crew in a bad way at around 9pm.

“They weren’t confident hoisting the mainsail and there was very little we could do for them. We couldn’t tow them because the sea was too rough. They weren’t doing well so we devised a plan to board their yacht.”

Haden, a skipper, was lucky to have another experienced skipper on board to take over the Coastguard boat, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to consider the rescue. But after some serious planning he prepared to board their boat.

He stood on the edge of the Coastguard boat, waited for the perfect moment and launched himself onto the stricken yacht.

Once there he had to figure out where everything was on the yacht and how to sail it. The two crew refused to leave the cabin and – after two days without sleep – were in no condition to help.

“They weren’t comfortable leaving the cockpit on the boat so I had to do it all myself, I was pretty much single handed. That’s the tricky part, all of a sudden you’ve got a short time to learn the boat, figure out where everything is and there was a bit of tidying up to do as well.”

Haden had to get some momentum in the yacht to turn it so the sails could get some wind. Finally, after six hours on board and ten nautical miles, Haden, guided by the Coastguard boat, made it into Okiwi Bay.

“Once we got around the heads we could get a tow on and the guys had organised a mooring for them. When we got it tied up the guys were happy to stay the night there so we left them to it. They were pretty grateful. I guess it’s one of those situations where you may feel a little embarrassed, but they shouldn’t have.”

Haden praised the effort of the entire crew in the rescue and says his award is one that belongs to the whole team.

He will head to Taupo in a fortnight where he is up for the national award of volunteer of the year. And he won’t be alone, the Nelson Coastguard won four awards at the regional awards, including for crew of the year and rescue of the year.