Sunday, 25 June 2017
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heptarchyThe holed and sunken yacht Heptarchy, lying on the seabed just off a busy shipping lane near Farol Island in the Ria Formosa, is to be raised and towed to a position in front of an Olhão shipyard tomorrow, Saturday.

The circumstances surrounding her sinking have been explained in detail to Maritime Police who spend the day interviewing the skipper and crew to establish exactly what happened.

Heptarchy, returning from a six week round trip to the Balearic Islands and skippered by experienced international yachtswoman Belinda Rushworth-Lund, now lies in 6 metres of water at low tide, having been holed and sunk in collision with one of the large safety buoys that marks the shipping channel.

The yacht sunk in less than three minutes and the skipper and the two crew members were forced to take to the open water before each was rescued by a nearby water taxi, a yacht and a local fishing boat.

Initial dives recovered the yacht’s documentation but little else due it its dangerous position.

An underwater survey showed that the ferro-cement hull had suffered a critical impact leaving a sizeable gash that could not be made secure despite valiant efforts by the crew.

The skipper managed to send an SOS that was picked up by the Coordination Centre for Maritime Search and Rescue in Lisbon which requested the Captain of the Port of Olhão to send a lifeboat and have an ambulance crew stand by at the dockside.
One crew was slightly injured by a rope that had become wrapped around her arm but all now are safely ashore and helping Maritime Police with their inquiries into the cause of the accident.

In contravention of the rules of the sea, a Spanish registered yacht, part of a group that may have been racing, sailed too close to Heptarchy as they came through the narrow channel between Farol Island and Isla Deserta, forcing Heptarchy's skipper to take evasive action to avoid an imminent collision.

Having been forced into a large marker buoy, the skipper steered her yacht towards the island but the amount of water taken on below decks flooded the engine and rendered the yacht powerless in the water where, with shocking speed, she sank just to the side of a main shipping lane in and out of the Ria Formosa lagoon area.

The Maritime Police now are tracing the Spanish registered yacht's skipper who may have been part of a flotilla out of the Guadiana or further around the Spanish coast, and are in contact with their Spanish counterparts.

Due to the seriousness of the incident caused by poor seamanship the Spanish skipper when identified will be prosecuted for endangering life crew and for causing an accident. An early arrest is hoped for.

The Spanish skipper undoubtedly realised what had happened and, despite the seriousness of his actions, he sailed swiftly away from the scene as did all the other Spanish yachts close by, leaving the stricken Heptarchy to sink and leaving the crew in danger of drowning in the swift flowing and dangerous channel water as they were forced to jump to safety into the sea.

The Maritime Police are interviewing those Portuguese vessels that were near the scene of the accident and are appealing for anyone that witnessed the incident to contact them, or algarvedailynews.

The skipper is well known to, and respected by, the maritime and land-based community in Olhão and is staying with friends as Heptarchy was not simply taken for occasional voyages, it served as her home.

Staff at the British consulate in Portimão are standing by to issue emergency travel documents for the crew should they wish to return to the UK as it is likely their passports, should they be recovered when the yacht finally is taken ashore on Sunday’s high tide,  will be too damaged to be useable.

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A salvage team managed to lift the yacht and transport her last weekend to an Olhão boatyard where the damage is being assessed and repair costs estimated. The cost of the operation to the owner so far is in excess of €25,000.