Solo Sailor Ordeal
Connell Couchman: “I felt absolute relief and joy when I saw Coastguard approaching”
The conditions were calm when Connell Couchman steered his new yacht out of Tauranga harbour for the long journey home to Wellington. It was an exciting day for Connell; his boat, the Celtic Dawn, was to become a dream home for Connell and his wife. Normally Connell would have sailed with a mate or two, but no-one could make it this time and he went alone. He waited for a weather window and headed off.
With sailing you can often expect the unexpected, and at the East Cape Connell’s luck started to run out. The sea conditions had worsened and he was having difficulty with his sails. To make matters worse, the autohelm (his yacht’s autopilot) blew, and the engine started sending out excessive fumes.
Connell realised he was in trouble – so he contacted Coastguard for help.
Back at Coastguard Gisborne, skipper Adrian Brown took Connell’s call. By radio, he guided Connell to a safer anchor point at Tokomaru Bay. Connell anchored his yacht, inspected the damage and carried out repairs. He also desperately needed a rest – he was exhausted after hours of battling the conditions.
After spending a night at anchor, Connell set off the following morning. But somewhere between Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, a distance of 15 nautical miles, his engine died. Connell was stranded in the middle of the sea. Weary, worried and stressed, he contacted Coastguard again. Recognising the danger, Adrian and his Gisborne volunteer crew of Andrew Shelton and Tony Watson went out to find Connell. They kept in radio contact touch with him throughout.
“The communication from Coastguard was great and kept me going. I was absolutely exhausted prior to being rescued and overcome by fumes. I felt absolute relief and joy when I saw Coastguard approaching, it was awesome to see the guys,” Connell told us.
When the crew arrived, Connell was drained and weary. But he managed to hook the towline up and the crew towed the yacht safely to Gisborne. Connell is so appreciative: “they came out and got me, and managed to tow me back to Gisborne. It was no mean feat – Celtic Dawn is an 11 metre, nine-tonne sloop.”
The whole ordeal lasted around 15 hours, from the first phone call to when Coastguard brought Connell safely back to shore. Connell wrote a heartfelt letter of thanks to the crew: “I wish to convey my sincere thanks to the members of Coastguard Gisborne and also commend them on their high levels of professionalism; I am truly indebted to these volunteers. They are a credit to the organisation.”
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