40 days drifting across storm tossed Atlantic

A British couple have been rescued from their stricken 42ft yacht by an Italian oil tanker after spending 40 days drifting across the Atlantic Ocean. Stuart Armstrong, 51, and his partner Andrea Davison, 48, were on board supertanker Indian Point in the middle of the Atlantic and heading back to Britain on Saturday night for an emotional reunion with their families.

The drama began on January 9, six days after the couple had left the Cape Verde Islands off the West Coast of Africa on board their £60,000 yacht Sara and headed for Antigua. For Stuart, an experienced yachtsman, it was his seventh crossing of the Atlantic, while it was Andrea’s fourth.

But midway through the 2,550-mile journey disaster struck when the rudder on the couple’s Isle of Man-registered 42ft yacht jammed to starboard. Speaking to The Mail on Sunday from the bridge of the Indian Point, Stuart said: ‘In effect, we were sailing round and round in circles as the rudder was stuck. We tried to counteract this by using a parachute drogue to help point the boat towards land but we didn’t really have any great success.

‘At first we were not too bothered because we had a good supply of dry food and was also plenty of water to keep us going, the radio was still working and we had power so there was no need to be too worried.

‘We alerted the coastguards in Britain and America and we also let our families know – I spent a good few days trying to fix the rudder as well but I just didn’t have any luck. The yacht drifted north for 40 days and conditions began to worsen and food and water were running low’.

The couple’s plight began to draw to a close last week. Some 1,000 miles north of Antigua they were warned by coastguards that another powerful storm was heading towards them. The oil tanker en route from South America to Amsterdam responded to a Mayday at 11.17am on February 18, giving its position as 70 miles from the couple’s stricken yacht.

The first sighting was made at 4.30pm, five hours later. Italian captain Michele Cancrini told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It was a difficult and complicated rescue because we had to line up a 30,000-ton, 183-metre supertanker alongside a 16-ton, 13-metre yacht. The yacht was banging against the side of the ship all the time during the rescue and we could not lower a rope ladder down to it, so we had to throw out a line to secure them and then throw out two body harnesses.’

The rescue operation took almost two hours. Both yacht crew were taken to the ship’s medical centre where, apart from shock and a few bruises, neither was found to have any injuries. They were given a cabin on board.

Andrea said: ‘We are just so grateful to the captain and crew. They carried out a very skilful rescue operation.

‘They were just brilliant. I was quite frightened about jumping into the sea but I had to put my trust in them and they were magnificent.

‘The most poignant thing though was the fact that we had to let go of Sara. There was nothing to do but abandon her to the sea. We left a note aboard for anyone who finds her.

‘It would have been impossible for it to be towed all the way across the Atlantic so we both said a very tearful goodbye to her.

‘It had been our home for eight years and although we have now lost her, at least we still have our lives.’
The Indian Point is expected to dock next Sunday.