Skipper claims inexperienced crew panicked as conditions deteriorated

A yachtsman has dropped plans to salvage his abandoned yacht and is taking his crew to court over claims that they panicked and set off the yacht’s EPIRB.

New Zealander Bill Heritage claims he was forced to abandon his 7.9m sloop Air Apparent on Wednesday when his inexperienced crew ignored his orders and set off the yacht’s Emergency beacon.

However, one of Mr Heritage’s crew said the boat was inadequately prepared for the journey and that they would not pay for its loss unless ordered to by a court.

All four were airlifted by the Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopter and flown back to Auckland. The Compass 790 yacht was left floating and a navigation warning was issued to shipping by Maritime New Zealand.

Mr Heritage said today his insurance would not cover his loss and it was too costly for him to salvage the yacht he had owned for 15 years.

He would not comment on the decision by his crew Carl Horn, John Lammin and Sharan Foga, to set off the yacht’s emergency beacon when he had ordered them not to. He said, “The circumstances surrounding the rescue have been a lot harder to cope with than I would have thought.”

His crew claimed that the yacht was underprepared for a trip from Auckland to Nelson, along the west coast. The engine would not start because the battery had not been charged and the crank failed to work, the navigation lights failed, there was no light on the compass to steer by and they were out of radio contact with anyone because of the loss of power.

They claimed that when they opened the sea anchor there was no shackle and no rope. They triggered the EPIRB but it lasted less than three hours and died as a rescue helicopter arrived.

The crew denied that they panicked when the seas got rough and the wind reached 25 knots, but one crew member, who had been a friend of the skipper for 27 years, conceded that the skipper might have known what his yacht was capable of better than his crew.

Full story: NZ Herald