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The 170-metre long "Team Osprey" lies upwind of "Wilson Street" to give it protection from the waves © Private
Sea Rescue

Rescue from Wilson Street

The Australian sailing couple Jennifer and Corrie Schutte gets into distress off Malta – and has to abandon its boat. Scenes of a dramatic rescue, part 2

von
Jens Brambusch
in
10 Minuten

Around 9.30 a.m. Corrie is worried for the first time. The experienced skipper notices that the boat is taking on an unusual motion. Suddenly waves up to 4 meters high are coming from two directions, on the bow and the beam, says Corrie. And then it is suddenly very quiet. The wind is gone, as if turned off with a switch. Only the waves are still there, swirling Wilson Street around. Corrie suspects what is to come. [read part 1 Nightmare on Wilson Street] Immediately he reefs the sails to towel size and then the first hurricane gust sweeps over the boat.

Cross lakes and wave towers

Within minutes, the waves have built up to five-meter-high towers, coming from all sides. On the crest of the wave, the storm presses Wilson Street onto its side. There is no wind in the wave valley, the sails are flapping. It becomes impossible to hold the boat on course. Corrie starts the engine to bring the boat back under control. But the tank is almost empty. He struggles with the canister to refill diesel. But the wind atomizes the diesel before it reaches the nozzle.

The mixture spreads all over the boat, and lays a slippery film on the deck, wrapping Corrie and Jennifer in a cloud of stench. Maybe two or three liters have found their way into the tank, the rest is blown away. When the canister is almost empty, the storm tears it from Corrie’s hand. The anemometer now reads over 50 knots – wind force ten.

Within half an hour the sea has turned into a madhouse. Jennifer goes below deck and at about 10 o’clock she radioed the sea rescue in Malta. She does not make a distress call, in fact she does not know exactly what she wants. Maybe it’s just instinct telling her that it would be good if someone out there knew where they were. When the sea rescuers recorded the position of Wilson Street, they want to know what the situation is. Jennifer says: „We need diesel!“ Radio silence! After a short pause the voice reports again. „Are you sure your problem is diesel?“

Enormous weather front on the advance

WetterThe weather front © Private

Unlike Corrie and Jennifer, the sea rescue workers see on the monitor what a huge weather front is rolling towards Wilson Street. Jennifer can’t remember exactly what happens next, only that she is suddenly in contact with two freighters that are coming to the rescue. Their boat is being tossed back and forth in the cross lakes. Below deck, Jennifer has trouble holding on to the VHF mike, on deck Corrie tries to regain control of the boat. But he can’t even tell where the wind is coming from. If Wilson Street is in a wave valley, he sees only huge walls of water around him. „We are getting help,“ Jennifer informs her husband. He just nods. Every minute the situation worsens, the gusts become increasingly violent and unpredictable.

Life raft fails

„I had no idea how such a rescue would happen,“ says Corrie. So he launches the life raft they bought a year ago. But when the life raft falls into the water, what happens? Nothing! Like a hard-shell case, Wilson Street pulls the life raft cannister behind it on a 20-meter long line. Corrie still tries to hoist the life raft back on board, but he has no chance, the waves are too strong. „What a mess,“ he thinks. „If we drown now, we won’t be able to complain to the life raft manufacturer.“ Today he laughs about his strange thoughts in the emergency situation.

ungeöffnete Rettunngsinsel
The Wilson Street drags the unopened life raft behind it © Private

Just under an hour passes before the 170-meter-long „Team Osprey“ emerges from the gray sea and lies upwind of Wilson Street to give it protection from the waves. A little later, the second ship also appears, an even larger cargo ship, which in turn provides the tanker with a wind break. The Australian’s boat now lies almost in calm water. Only the swell regularly raises and lowers the boat by four meters.

With a loud bang the crew of the tanker fires a line at Wilson Street. But the line gets caught in the mast. „Just don’t pull it now,“ Corrie thinks. Then there’s another bang. The second shot lands in the water. „Who is standing there at the gun?“ Jennifer says to Corrie – and laughs. Gallows humor in a dramatic situation.

The third shot must be right

What the two don’t know: The third shot must be right. Otherwise the maneuver must be aborted. The captain tells them that later. Also, the time window for the rescue becomes smaller and smaller. In a few minutes the wind will increase to over 80 knots. „The funny thing,“ Jennifer says later, „we were never really afraid. We were focused on our work the whole time, there was no time for panic.“

Sichern des Bootes
The salvage line hits the Wilson Street with a big bang © Private

The third shot takes. The line lands in front of the sprayhood. Corrie grabs the rope, pulls and pulls. The thin line turns into a thicker one, then an even thicker one, until he pulls a 25 millimeter monster on deck, stiff from salt water, hardly bendable and too thick for the cleats. Only with difficulty can he lay the rope around the winch.

Then the crew of the tanker pulls Wilson Street to their side. Only now the sailors notice the enormous swell. Their boat rattles and scrapes four meters along the side of the ship with every movement. The GRP grinds on the red steel. Corrie hears a crack as if the hull of Wilson Street is breaking.

A rope ladder to safety

Wilson StreetThe yacht alongside the tanker – GRP grinds on red steel © Private

And then suddenly the sailboat scrapes along the side of the tanker towards the stern, where Corrie sees the huge propeller that makes the water boil. „Oh God, we’re going to get minced,“ it shoots through his head. But then finally the tanker crew has secured the yacht. Just before the stern of the tanker, the yacht pauses, a rope ladder falls down. At the top, at the railing of the tanker, a dozen or so Filipinos in overalls and helmets are standing, indicating to the sailors to climb over the ladder on board. There is no safety line.

In no time at all, Jennifer has stowed all the most important documents, ID cards and boat papers in two waterproof backpacks, along with her engagement ring, a cell phone, money – as well as a dress and photos of her children. She has also stuffed two sailing jackets into a large garbage bag. And two coffee cups. She still doesn’t know why. „I just packed everything I could grab,“ she says. When she appears on deck and hands Corrie one of the waterproof bags, he storms below deck once again. „I just wanted to take something with me too,“ laughs Corrie. „But I didn’t know what. So I took the hand compass that was hanging in the navigation corner.“

The most difficult part of the rescue is still to come. The two sailors have to get up the ladder somehow. But how? The yacht goes up and down, thunders against the tanker, then it is once again three meters away. The two know they have to jump on the ladder when the boat is on a wave crest, otherwise the dancing Wilson Street could crush them against the steel wall. Jennifer’s first attempt fails. She slips down the wet ladder, bruises her foot. For a moment she thinks she has broken her toes. Her soles are still slippery from the diesel.

Rettung
The tanker crew pulls Jennifer and Corrie on board © Private

The second attempt works. Step by step she pulls herself up. Corrie comes after her, protecting Jennifer’s legs with his arms, with which he clutches the ladder. They leave the garbage bag with their jackets and the compass in the cockpit. No chance to take it up the ladder. Halfway up, Corrie has a request. In a calm tone he says to Jennifer. „Could you climb a little faster, please! It’s not very comfortable here.“ Jennifer is having fun today: „He asked really nicely and said please!“

Above 80 knots in gusts

When they reach the railing, they are hoisted on deck by the crew. Immediately, two crew members climb down and release the salvage lines on board. „Should we bring anything else,“ they ask politely. Jennifer points to the garbage bag in the cockpit. Then the castaways are asked to come to the bridge, where Jennifer first apologizes for their stench. Wilson Street drifts out of the lee of the tanker and is swept away by the hurricane.

Jens Brambusch
Corrie and Jennifer after the rescue on the bridge of the Team Osprey © Private

Only now do the two realize the danger they have been in. They see the weather forecast and the wind indicator, which now shows over 80 knots in the gusts: Far more than wind force twelve. Nevertheless, they ask themselves whether they have given up the boat, their home, too soon. The captain of the tanker disagrees. Only with a lot of luck could they have survived the hurricane. It is 12 noon, only three hours ago they were sitting below deck having breakfast in a good mood.

The captain gives them the owner’s cabin and has dry clothes brought to them. Jennifer and Corrie now wear T-shirts with the tanker’s name on them, and checkered cook’s pants. Corrie and Jennifer sink into the black and white checked pants. It is all they have. They feel like clowns.

Back to Istanbul

After a warm shower, the two are supposed to appear on the bridge again. The General Manager of the Maltese shipping company wants to contact them. Meanwhile, the Team Osprey fights its way through the hurricane. The waves wash over the deck, the spray splashes down to the bridge. In the corridors it is hardly possible to keep on your feet. Even the steel colossus resembles a ship’s swing at the carnival. The tanker can only manage 4.7 knots in the storm. Normal is 15.

Back on the bridge, Jennifer has a question: „Where is the ship actually going?“ The captain explains that they are coming from Rotterdam. „Our port of destination is Istanbul. We will arrive in about six days.“ Corrie and Jennifer look at each other in horror. Not to Turkey again!

Malice on Facebook

The next day, the Medicane has slowly left for Greece, Jennifer finds a message on Facebook from the Australian Sea Rescue (Amsa). The photo shows Wilson Street shortly after the rescue. It is the picture taken by a crew member at 11:43 the previous day. The Sea Rescue thanks the Maltese colleagues for the coordination of the rescue operation. Jennifer bursts into tears.

Wilson letztes Bild
The post from the Australian Sea Rescue © Private

Not because of the memories of the dramatic rescue, nor out of grief for her boat. It is the nasty comments under the picture. Besides many encouraging contributions, the typical know-it-alls and sofa sailors also have their say. „I don’t see any waves there“ or „If you can’t handle it, you have no business on the water“. Jennifer briefly considers answering, explaining that there are no waves to be seen because two cargo ships are lying in front of the yacht as breakwaters. But then she puts away her cell phone and avoids Facebook for the next few weeks.

The epirb triggers

The trip to Istanbul almost resembles a cruise. The two are lovingly cared for by the crew, drink tea with the officers in the morning and afternoon, and can go to the bridge whenever they want. The shipping company does not charge them anything. Sea rescue is a matter of honor. Even before they reach Istanbul, Wilson Street seems to have sunk. The sea rescue informs the daughter in Australia that the epirb has triggered. Either the boat was washed by a wave, or the boat sank. „During the rescue operation, the hull was severely damaged,“ says Corrie. He even hopes that the boat sank and poses no danger to other ships. During the exceptional circumstances of the storm he had no chance to open the sea cocks.

Gruppenfoto mit Crew
Jennifer und Corrie with the crew © Private

In Istanbul, the two are met by the Australian consulate, which takes care of the paperwork and offers to arrange for a flight. „We would like to go to Malta,“ Corrie says immediately. What they are supposed to do there, he doesn’t know either. „It was like an inner impulse to end the trip,“ he says today. While still in Istanbul, the two of them stock up on the essentials.

They don’t have more than the clothes they wore when they were rescued. And of course the T-shirts with the tanker logo. The next day they fly to Malta. There they meet some Australian sailors with whom they sail back to Sicily. Was it strange to be on the sea again? Jennifer and Corrie look irritated. „No, why?“

Manufacturer promises compensation

They have contacted the manufacturer of the life raft. They cannot explain why the island failed, but considering the pictures promised compensation. Also the weather service has reacted. Corrie actually only wanted to ask if he could suspend the subscription for several months. He got his money back because the forecast had been inaccurate. The insurance pays for the loss of the boat. Even if the amount does not quite correspond to the value of the boat.

Meanwhile Jennifer and Corrie are back in Turkey. They do not want to fly back to Australia. Rather they are looking for a new boat to continue their journey. Whether Malta is back on the sailing plan, they do not know yet. However they are hopeful that Murphy went down with the boat.

Epilogue

Two months after the incident off Malta, Jennifer receives a message via Facebook. From Libya. A man inquires about the well-being of the crew. A Libyan fisherman would have found the damaged Wilson Street on the sea and towed it into a harbor. The man seems to be an officer of the coast guard.

Jennifer and Corrie cannot believe their eyes. On the attached photos, Wilson Street lies peacefully in a harbor, somewhere in Libya. Without mast, anchor and chain have disappeared, the fittings are half torn off. The bimini with solar panels is missing, as well as all ropes and the chart plotter. The railing is partly torn off. The hull is damaged. It is possible that Wilson Street has capsized. Or it serves as a spare parts warehouse for Libyan sailors.

wilson street in Libyen
The remains of the Wilson Street … © Private
Wilson Street in Libyen
...somewhere in Libya © Private

Personal valuables are no longer on board, the message says. In the pictures that were taken below deck, everything looks spotless. Someone must have cleaned up. In the background of one photo, Jennifer even discovers cleaning products. And she is surprised. In the salon hangs a picture that Jennifer painted in Turkey but never put on the wall. It was well stowed away. Someone must have found it and put it in the salon. It seems that someone lives on Wilson Street. Murphy???

Anyway, the insurance company seems happy. „That’s great“, writes one of the staff members when Jennifer and Corrie inform them about the mail from Libya. „So, what do you want to do now?“ Corrie is shocked. „I am definitely not going to a war zone.“ It seems that the last chapter of Wilson Street has not yet been written. The nightmare continues.

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