Man describes dramatic sea rescue after being swept off yacht

Cornelis and Spencer on his Morgan Giles 30 yacht
Cornelis and Spencer on his Morgan Giles 30 yacht

A MAN who was swept off his yacht by a freak wave has praised the ‘awesome’ Shoreham lifeboat and rescue crews who saved his life.

Cornelis van Rietschoten was sailing six nautical miles off the coast of Shoreham on Saturday when he was ‘catapulted’ into the freezing water.

The 56-year-old, an experienced sailor who moors his boat at Sussex Yacht Club in Southwick, immediately drifted 150 meters from his yacht, leaving his friend Spencer Neal onboard and battling to keep control of the vessel.

Meanwhile, Cornelis said he began to realise he was in trouble: “I didn’t think I was going to die, but I was aware that I could – there is a difference. I wasn’t panicked, but I quickly realised I was in very serious trouble.

“I was getting very cold and the wind was very visibly picking up.”

Spencer was unable to reach him in the boat, as the sails had got stuck, so he was forced to call for help via the DSC (digital selective calling) function on his radio. It alerted the coastguard they were in trouble and sent them their location.

Cornelis, from Hove, said he cannot remember how long he was in the water, but the rescue crews said it was around 35 minutes. He said he remembers a helicopter flying overhead, but then disappearing, and the sound of the engine of the lifeboat. The next thing he knew he was being winched up into a helicopter.

He said: “It took ages to get the sling on me, as my body was so cold I couldn’t do anything. My memory is a bit hazy, but I know that they flew me to the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

“My body temperature was just 30 degrees, which is hypothermia level, but they did all sorts of tests on me, and once I was warm again I felt fine.

“The rescue crews were awesome, A and E were awesome. I can’t thank them enough.”

Cornelis and Spencer had been out on the water for a few hours when the incident happened, having set off that morning to look at the building of the Rampion windfarm.

He said they knew it was windy, but were on the way home before the worst of the weather hit when the freak wave came from an unexpected direction and knocked him off the boat.

He was wearing a lifejacket, but as he was steering, was not tethered to the boat.

He said he has not been put off sailing, but it will make them review their safety procedures.

Shoreham deputy coxswain Peter Everard said: “The man was wearing a lifejacket which no doubt helped save his life. He was very lucky that we found him in time.

“It was a good team effort all round and a good result.”

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1) Make our website your homepage

2) Like our Facebook page

3) Follow us on Twitter

4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

Always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.