The crew of an American yacht has praised Irish rescue services after they were rescued when their boat capsized off the Cork coast.
All 21 members of the crew of the American registered Rambler were rescued in two separate operations.
Five of the crew drifted away from the boat on a life raft and were picked up by a local boat while the other 16 were found clinging to the upturned hull of the multi-million Euro yacht off the West Cork coastline.
The Rambler was taking part in the Fastnet race when the mast hit the water and the yacht turned upside down very quickly.
Some of the crew were asleep at the time as the vessel ran into a huge swell in horrific weather conditions.
Crew member Earl Williams said: “There were people asleep on board when the mast hit the water and started to turn upside down very quickly. We didn’t have a lot of time to get out.”
The 16 left hanging onto the hill were convinced their five colleagues faced certain death as their life raft drifted away, not far from the Fastnet Lighthouse and Cape Clear Island and about 20 miles from Baltimore in Cork.
Australian captain Bob Wylie said: “We’re all so relieved to be alive, we can’t believe it really.
“Seconds after the yacht capsized, I battled to climb up on to the rear of the hull where I remained perched for two hours before being rescued.
“My first priority was to get myself safe and the second priority was to try to help the others. I saw them the five in the life raft drifting away from the yacht. I threw them a rope but it couldn’t reach them. I was very worried for them.” he added.
American crew member Michael Van Beuren (44), from Rhode Island, told the Irish Independent “I was hugely relieved when I heard that all 21 crew had been rescued safe.
“The water wasn’t bone-chilling cold. But I began to get worried as time went on. When I saw the five get separated and then we could see them drifting away, I got very worried. I was concerned that they might not survive. It is such a relief that we all made it ashore.”
The search and rescue mission – launched after the Rambler capsized at 6.30pm local time – was one of the biggest air-sea rescue operations in modern times by the Irish Coastguard as helicopters based at Shannon and Waterford, two lifeboats from Baltimore and Castletownbere and a Naval Service vessel the LE Ciara all raced to the scene in 15 foot waves.
One injured female crew member was airlifted to Tralee General Hospital suffering from hypothermia.
The American owner of the boat George David told Irish radio that the crew was very experienced and had participated in 100 Fastnet races between them.
“Boats do tip over. We don’t like it but it happens from time to time. The keel fin has fractured, snapped off. It’s a piece of solid stainless steel and it’s designed not to do what it did, but it did,” said David.