Friends of Billy Brannan have launched a Crowdfunding campaign for the solo skipper after his yacht, Helena was dismasted in an Atlantic storm.

The Vancouver 34 Pilot, Helena, was more than just a yacht to sailor Billy Brannan. It was also his home which he lost on 23 May 2020 after he had to abandon the boat in the mid-Atlantic.

The Essex solo skipper had been sailing from Marigot Bay in St Martin to the UK when he was caught in a storm. A large wave knocked down and rolled the yacht, leaving it dismasted.

‘I was running downwind under staysail, averaging 7-7.5 knots, with winds around 46-54 knots for over 30 hours with no problems then bang! At around 2300 on 20 May 2020 the yacht capsized and rolled,’ Brannan told Yachting Monthly.

‘I have no idea what caused the roll. Helena had been tracking nice and straight; maybe just a big one (wave) got me. I was happy until then with no worries,’ added the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) member, who had shared his passage plan with the OCC, which is helping sailors trapped in the Caribbean as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

A skipper being rescued from a yacht in the Atlantic

Initially, Billy Brannan had planned to refuel and continue towards the UK. Credit: Seaways Reymar

As well as the loss of the rig, the rod kicker also punctured the front pilothouse hatch and the starboard aft port window failed. The resulting water ingress causing extensive damage.

Brannan, who was uninjured in the incident, waited until first light to clear the wreckage and then got ‘underway with engine and autopilot’ to continue his passage.

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When he was around 513 miles south west of Lizard Point, Cornwall, he issued an EPIRB alert, which HM Coastguard picked up on 22 May 2020.

When  French maritime patrol aircraft crew rendezvoused with him, he asked for fuel to continue to the UK.

24 hours later the 229 metre oil tanker, Seaways Reymar arrived.

The yacht Helena in the Atlantic

The Helena had been Billy Brannan’s home for years. Credit: Seaways Reymar

Fuel was successfully transferred to Helena, but during the retrieval of the heaving line, the yacht’s prop became fouled.

‘I had no option but to abandon,’ said Brannan.

He was transferred onto the Seaways Reymar in what HM Coastguard described as ‘challenging conditions’ of 3-4 metre swells, and is now on his way to Houston, USA, where the Seaways Reymar will dock.

HM Coastguard Controller Matthew West said: ‘The yachtsman was rescued by tremendous seamanship demonstrated by the master and crew of the Seaways Reymar, who diverted their course and remained on scene for eight hours to ensure the safe recovery of the sailor.
‘As well as the skipper’s EPIRB satellite beacon which first alerted us to the situation on Friday (22 May), we were also aided by the fact that the vessel was transmitting on AIS which was very helpful in pinpointing the position of the yacht,’ added West.

Now Brannan’s friends are trying to raise money for him to help get him back to the UK.

Click here to go through to the Crowdfunding campaign

Andrew Eastham, who has set up the Crowdfunding campaign, said Brannan’s voyage to the Caribbean in March ‘should have been a dream trip’, but the Covid-19 outbreak changed all that.

With the islands in lockdown, Brannan provisioned and rested knowing ‘he had to return home to Essex before the hurricane season’, said Eastham, who said Brannan had considerable solo sailing experience.

He also had no insurance for his voyage.

A skipper wearing a blue T-shirt helming a yacht

Billy Brannan had planned to cruise the Caribbean before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the region to lockdown.

‘He is now not sure how he will get home from America once the tanker reaches its destination, or what he will come home too,’ said Eastham.

‘Almost all his possessions were lost and it is a devastating and worrying time for him,’ he continued.

‘We want to try and help him recover from this ordeal and his friends are trying to raise £30,00 to help him get back to the UK, and start to replace belongings, and help him get back on his feet – which is a fraction of what he has lost,’ added Eastham.