Rescued off northern Spitsbergen

Rescued off northern Spitsbergen

Christopher Hamblin and John McManus in the helicopter after they were rescued from the sea north of Spitsbergen, Svalbard. 
Photo: Governor

Hamblin had dreamed about sailing around Svalbard's largest island, Spitsbergen, since he was last on a sailing trip on Svalbard in the 80s. The goal was to sail around the island through Hinlopenstredet.

With water to their knees, and while the boat sank beneath them, the two British sailors managed to scramble into a rubber dinghy.

- When the ship began to sink, I tried to throw the liferaft over the side, but it did not open as it should. With water above my knees I had to locate the pump in order to get the rubber dinghy inflated, says Christopher Hamblin (74) to NRK.

Together with previous work colleague and longstanding friend, John McManus (75), he was sailing around Spitsbergen when the incident occurred, Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Sept. 5th 2012, they were rescued off the northern tip of Spitsbergen.

It took between two and three hours from the beacon was triggered, until the Governor's Super Puma helicopter had picked them up.

Sank in 15 minutes

On the way from Schmeerenburgfjorden on the northwest side of the island, to Moffen at 80 degrees north, it all went wrong.

Visibility was poor and the wind changed direction constantly, churning up the seas. The instruments were not consistent, making it difficult for them to steer a proper course.

- I saw the rock on the chart and altered course. Five minutes later we hit Kobbskjæra anyway. There were loud noises, and the boat started taking on water, rapidly.

Link to electronic chart   (Kobbskjæra N79 55, E11 38)

15 minutes after the two Britons had triggered the EPIRB  "Arabel" went down. The two crew members had managed to transfer into the dinghy in that time.

"Arabel" photographed in Magdalene north Spitzbergen shortly before it went down. 
Photo: Private

Drifted in Inflatable for two hours

They were dressed well, but started to freeze. Since the telephone numbers were located in the submerged boat, they had no way to communicate with their rescuers via the satellite phone.

Yet Hamblin never doubted that they would be rescued.

- Strangely enough, none of us were frightened. We lay in the boat, talked little and thought much. While I thought that I had lost the boat I have owned for 30 years due to my own incompetence, John thought it best that he never go sailing again, chuckled Hamblin.

He has been sailing since childhood and been in Greenland, Jan Mayen and Svalbard before. He thinks the old wooden boat from the 60's got a proper fairytale end, as she went bow down at almost 80 degrees north.

While lying in the dinghy, it was the sound of the helicopter they first heard when the clock was approaching half past one Tuesday night.

- Initially it passed us, and we realized that it was heading towards the location where beacon was triggered before they came and found us. The first I saw of them was when the rescue man came down next to the dinghy, says Hamblin.

He said that they were very relieved when help arrived, and brags about both rescue personnel and the staff of the hospital in Longyearbyen.

- But the irony was that I managed to stay relatively dry until we were up in the helicopter. I was dragged along the sea and under water when we were lifted up into the helicopter, said Hamblin, who is in good shape after the dramatic experience.

Not a given that one is rescued in time

- Although the two Britons were confident that help would come, such rescues do not always have a happy outcome.

The area where the sailboat was wrecked is very far north. There is no guarantee that you will be rescued in time there. Margins are small, especially in such an environment. It could have gone really wrong, says Acting Governor Lieutenant Per Andreassen to NRK.

It was dark, snow flurries and poor visibility in the search area.

- It turned out that the dinghy had drifted quite far from the position we were given, and the helicopter crew had to search for them, says Andreassen.

Tomorrow morning the two shipwrecked Brits will be traveling home to England.

- I'm going home to my family and explain why I'm such a silly old man, says Hamblin.

His wife was notified as soon as he had triggered the EPIRB.

- When we spoke on the phone she told me that she had not had time to cry yet, because she had been on the phone with emergency agencies, he said.

Nevertheless, he is confident that their families will welcome them when they come home. But he dare not suggest that the insurance money should go towards a new sailboat,.


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