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On 7th December 2017 the crew of ST BARBARA V, all of whom were from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, were on passage from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Upon rounding the southern end of Tenerife they were subjected to Force 7 winds with the sea state rapidly rising. Having watched with interest as another yacht approached their position, she started healing at an unusually high angle and then broached violently, with her mast hitting the water. Despite the crew’s best efforts to hang on to the rails there was no way they could prevent themselves from falling into the water. Within seconds the yacht had turned completely upside-down, with it quickly becoming obvious that the reason for her capsize was the loss of her keel.
Lt Col Neil Wilson, the skipper of ST BARBARA V, was at the helm at the time and immediately alerted the Mate, started the engine and put the on-deck watch into action. Under the guidance of their Watch-leader (Capt James Lambden) and despite the testing conditions, they rapidly dropped the two headsails, lashing them to the foredeck, which allowed ST BARBARA to turn back to assist.
The stricken yacht had five German-Swiss crew on board, four of whom had floated clear but the fifth, the only female, was still attached by her harness inside the inverted yacht. Her husband removed his life jacket, dived beneath and incredibly managed to release her. They were fortunate to resurface within close proximity to their yacht’s life buoy and the husband’s life jacket which he put back on.
Lt Col Wilson manoeuvred ST BARBARA close to the other three crew members who had floated clear of their upturned hull, at which stage the crew were able to use throwing lines to haul them to the boat and then manhandle them on board. Whilst this may sound relatively simple, the prevailing conditions dictated that it was anything but. The skipper needed to use significant skill to keep the ST BARBARA pointing head-to-wind, requiring a slight forward motion into the heavy sea. This added to the difficulties the crew (Bombadier Matthew Fisher and LBdr Luke Templeton) were having when trying to drag the soaked and fully clothed casualties over the high stern rail. It took the collective efforts of people to achieve it but they did so remarkably quickly.
Having recovered 3 casualties, ST BARBARA turned to recover the remaining two, who had by now been in the water for over 20 minutes. The skipper again demonstrated significant skill by bringing them alongside at the first attempt and subsequently recovered them in the same way. All five crew were taken down below to be triaged by the Ship’s medic (Sgt Pete Edwards) and provided with warm, dry clothing and reassurance by Sgt Paul Burnett and Capt Joshua Roughton.
It is without doubt that had ST BARBARA V not been so close to the emerging disaster, and then recovered the crew so swiftly, that with a strong offshore wind and falling daylight, their chances of survival would have been minimal.
The whole crew demonstrated outstanding skill, teamwork and tenacity in responding to an emerging disaster and are fully deserving of a Crew Commendation to recognise their actions.
Colonel Neil Wilson
Captain Joshua Rougton RA
Captain James Lambden RA
Lance Bombardier John Johnston
Sergeant Peter Edwards
Sergeant Paul Burnett
Lance Bombardier Matthew Fisher
Lance Bombardier Luke Templeton