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Old 05-02-2007, 10:13 AM   #1
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The Antarctic research vessel SA Agulhas is steaming through rough seas in the Southern Ocean to rescue the crew of an Australian yacht, Cowrie Dancer, after its mizzen mast broke and a crew member was washed overboard in a storm with swells of between five- and eight metres.

A South African crew member, Carol Erasmus, 32, of Uvongo on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, was unhurt but exhausted on Tuesday after the ordeal, which took place about 700 nautical miles south of Port Elizabeth.

The two other crew members, both Australian, were injured.

Carol's mother, Melody Erasmus, said on Tuesday night that her daughter had been living with her in Uvongo since leaving Johannesburg. "I'm very worried about Carol. I lost my eldest son by drowning at the Vaal Dam eight years ago," she said.

Erasmus said Carol was doing a skipper's course.

"She went on this yacht trip because she needed 800 nautical miles for her skipper's ticket," she said.

Attempts by the crew to find the missing man, John Blackman of Australia, have been unsuccessful and the crew are now motoring towards the SA Agulhas.

Jacques Smit of South Africa's Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is co-ordinating the search from Silvermine, said the Agulhas had left Marion Island at 6am on Tuesday to go to the assistance of the stricken yacht. It should reach the yacht by Wednesday afternoon.

Cowrie Dancer's skipper, Dale Peterson of Australia, broke a leg in the storm and Australian crew member Nicholas Lawson has hurt his hip, which may be fractured.

Blackman, the crew member who is missing overboard, is an experienced sailor whose voyages include sailing up the Amazon.

Lawson is a doctor with Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Smit said the Cowrie Dancer's batteries were running low, but the SA Agulhas had managed to make contact with the yacht on Tuesday.

"It is motoring towards the Agulhas. I spoke to the Agulhas just now and they had managed to get in communication with the yacht.

"The South African woman appears to be the only crew member not injured. The Agulhas said the crew are very tired, but seem to be doing okay.

"The weather is not too pleasant. They are just in the Roaring Forties," Smit said.

He said the Australian maritime rescue centre had picked up Cowrie Dancer's mayday distress call and had relayed the information to the South African rescue centre because the yacht had been in the South African rescue area.

"We got the call at 7.30pm on Monday. Reports were that they had lost their mizzen - that's the mast towards the back of the yacht - and that one crew member was missing overboard. I assume it was because of bad weather.

"Earlier, the yacht was sailing back towards the place where they lost the man overboard, but now they have turned around and are heading towards the Agulhas," Smit said.

The yacht, from Perth, is on a round-the-world trip in the southern latitudes.

It rounded Cape Horn in March and sailed to Cape Town, where it berthed at the Royal Cape Yacht Club.

The yacht left Cape Town on Monday last week.

Erasmus, an engineer who worked in Johannesburg for Denel until four months ago, joined the crew from Cape Town.

The maritime section of the weather office in Pretoria said on Tuesday there was bad weather from a deep frontal low that was moving across the Southern Ocean.

"At the moment, the sea is very rough with swells between five- and seven metres," the weather office spokesperson said on Tuesday afternoon.

He said swells in that part of the ocean on Monday had been up to eight-metres high.

The weather was likely to improve on Wednesday, with swells dropping to four metres, he said.
    • This article was originally published on page 1 of The Mercury on May 02, 2007
Also see: http://www.thewest.com.au/default.aspx?Men...ContentID=27592



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Old 05-02-2007, 06:02 PM   #2
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The SA Agulhas has now reached the stricken vessel.

From http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story...51-1702,00.html

RESCUERS have reached a stricken yacht in the Southern Ocean with two injured Australians aboard and are now staging a delicate operation to transfer them to safety. But the desperate search for a third Australian washed overboard by a massive wave in wild seas has been called off, the South African rescuers said.

Three West Australian men and a South African woman were aboard the Cowrie Dancer when it was knocked down by the huge wave 750 nautical miles south-east of the South African coast on Monday, the country's rescue centre said today.

Perth man John Blackman, 55, was washed overboard, despite being secured to the yacht, and is presumed drowned in freezing seas south of Durban.

South African Maritime Search and Rescue duty officer Mark Hellerberg said a rescue boat launched from South African research vessel, SA Agulhas, which has helicopters and medical facilities aboard, was alongside the yacht.

"They are busy strapping in the skipper onto a stretcher, bringing him across and hopefully in an hour or so all crew members will be transferred from the Cowrie Dancer to the SA Agulhas," Mr Hellerberg.

The 17.5-metre ketch's owner and skipper, Dale Peterson, an experienced sailor, was believed to have a broken leg, Mr Hellerberg said.

Fellow Australian Nicholas Lawson is believed to have a possible broken hip and bruises and cuts to his scalp.

The South African mechanical engineer, Carol Erasmus, was uninjured.

Two hours before the SA Agulhas reached the Cowrie Dancer, helicopters were launched to search for Mr Blackman, who was understood not to have been wearing a lifejacket, but were unable to find him, Mr Hellerberg said.

"We have stopped the search for the missing person," Mr Hellerberg said.



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Old 05-02-2007, 11:30 PM   #3
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Our Sincere Commiserations to John Blackman's family and friends - The Southern Ocean !

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ID:	11 Forecast Wx for 2 May 2007

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Old 05-03-2007, 07:55 AM   #4
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The SA Agulhas reached the stricken Australian yacht, Cowrie Dancer, in the Southern Ocean at about 4.30pm local time on Wednesday - and began the tricky task of getting the exhausted crew off the yacht and on to the ship in the dark.

Initial reports are that the crew will leave the yacht and a salvage vessel from South Africa will collect it, but this has not been confirmed.

The Australian crew member, John Blackman, 55, who was swept overboard in a storm, has not been found.

In a telephone interview at 5.30pm on Wednesday, the master of the SA Agulhas, Capt Jonathan Wanliss, said the first to come off had been Dale Peterson, skipper of the yacht.

The SA Agulhas was one hour ahead of South Africa time.

"Right now we're transferring the skipper from the yacht to the inflatable (rescue boat) in a stretcher.

"We thought about lifting the crew off with the chopper but, given the conditions here, it was not feasible," Wanliss said.

He said the helicopter on board the Agulhas had flown ahead of the ship earlier on Wednesday afternoon, taking a trauma paramedic, Tom McSherry, and the ship's second mate, Gavin Syndercombe, to assist with the rescue operation.

"We established that the injuries to the two crew members were not life-threatening," said Wandliss. "Dale (Peterson) has an injury to his pelvis, and he can't move without pain. Nick (Lawson, 38) has a head wound which will require some stitches."

The only South African on the Cowrie Dancer, Carol Erasmus, 32, an engineer from Uvongo, was not injured.

Wanliss said it was not an option to lift the yacht on to the Agulhas. "She weighs 25 tons. The maximum weight our cranes can take is 25 tons, and that is too much of a risk at sea," Wanliss said.

Towing the yacht was also not an option as the Agulhas, SA's supply ship for Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Islands, had to complete its voyage, taking staff and cargo from Marion Island back to Cape Town.

The Cowrie Dancer crew could either return to the yacht and complete their voyage, or leave the yacht, get a ride with the Agulhas, and arrange for a salvage vessel to collect the yacht.

Wanliss said the crew might opt for the latter. If they did, they would return with the Agulhas to Marion Island, and then steam back to Cape Town, to arrive around May 12.
    • This article was originally published on page 3 of The Mercury on May 03, 2007

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Old 05-04-2007, 12:24 PM   #5
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Extract taken from the Mercury, Friday, May 4, 2007

There is an unusually warm current of about 18ºC flowing around the area where Australian yachtsman John Blackman was washed off the Cowrie Dancer on Monday night, making it 'not impossible' that he may have survived in the normally icy Southern Ocean.

This was one of the reasons why the SA Agulhas and its two Bell 212 helicopters began a coordinated air-sea search for the missing yachtman early yesterday, the morning after the three crew members were rescued from the yacht about 700 nautical miles south-east of Cape Town.

While the Cowrie Dancer's owner and skipper, Dale Peterson, of Australia, lay incapacitated with a broken pelvis on board the Agulhas, his two crew, Australian Nick Lawson, 38, and Carol Erasmus, 32, from Uvongo on the South Coast, joined the helicopter search.

The master of the Agulhas, Capt Jonathan Wanliss, said yesterday that the ship had sailed about 60 nautical miles away from the yacht and was searching an area of about 30 miles by 40 miles.

Blackman was washed overboard on Monday night in a violent storm which smashed the mizzen mast.

"Based on the currents and the drift, we estimated the most probable position where John would be, and are searching an area with both helicopters. By mid-morning the wind was up to 50 knots, with swells of over 4m, so we had to recall the helicopters. But the weather moderated in the azfternoon and we resumed the search," said Wanliss.

"The ocean temperature is 18ºC. We seem to on the edge of a fairly warm current, so that is one of the reasons why we felt it was not impossilbe that he has survived. But 50 miles away the temperature is down to 3ºC. And John was apparently wearing foul-weather gear and a lifejacket."

Meanwhile, Erasmus said by satellite phone from the SA Agulhas yesterday that she had never before seen such huge waves as those she had faced in the Southern Ocean.

Erasmus said she and Blackman had been trying to secure the broken mizzen when a huge wave had hit the yacht on Monday. "It was like an explosion. I was under water for some time. When I came up he was gone," she said.

The power of the wave ripped 55 year old Blackman overboard, even though he was attached to the yacht by his safety harness. He was not seen again.

The Agulhas will take the crew to Marion Island, then to Cape Town on May 12.

The Cowrie Dancer is floating abandoned in the southern seas and may be salvaged.

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