Stephen Ainsworth - owner of Loki - runs through the sequence of events leading up to the loss of his boat during Middle Sea Race 25/10/07

Just before he boarded the plane back to Australia this afternoon, Stephen Ainsworth chatted to about the events leading up to the loss of his boat, the 60ft Reichel Pugh-designedLoki,during last weekend’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. He also tells of the sadness of seeing his yacht washed up on a rocky beach, trashed and pilfered.

Ainsworth, who successfully campaignedLokiin Sydney last season decided to bring the boat to Europe this summer and then head back to Australia for the Sydney-Hobart at Christmas. Unfortunately,Lokilost her rudder during the horrendous conditions on the north coast of Sicily last Sunday night and was abandoned in the life-threatening conditions. All 16 crewmembers were successfully airlifted off.

Stephen Ainsworth explained what happened?

“It was still light between about 5.00 and 5.15 in the afternoon reaching along the north coast of Sicily in winds averaging 35kts and gusting up to 38kts. We had two reefs in so everything felt really comfortable. Cam Miles was steering and I was sitting right next to him doing the mainsheet when suddenly we heard some strange noises aft; we thought it was the steering cable or something.

“Cam Instantly rushed to the other wheel, looked behind and in horror saw the rudder floating off. It had literally just snapped off; below the lower bearing. We were lucky it didn’t damage the hull. The hull was totally watertight. Slowly but surely the yacht started to round up. We got everyone on deck immediately and dropped the sails.

“Our navigator Michael Bellingham jumped on the radio to request a tow into a nearby port. The biggest problem we seemed to have was communicating with the Italian authorities. Fortuntely we had another boat the ItalianAtlanta IIstanding by and the crew could speak English so they were able to relay messages back to the coastal authorities.

“Unfortunately the tow boat they were going to send out didn’t arrive because of the bad weather, so we put out a drogue because as it was a northerly it was just blowing towards the lee shore. We were about 15 miles offshore doing about 2kts over the water so we figured we could buy ourselves a bit of time motoring with the drogue out away from the rocky coastline.

“Eventually night fell and it was clear we weren’t going to get into any port, it would have been a complete disaster to have tried. We knew at this point there was really no way out other than to be taken off the boat.

“The race control contacted us saying they’d got a helicopter coming to take us off the boat. They asked: ‘Do you want to come off because you need to make a decision now because it’s getting late.’

“The first helicopter arrived and the first eight guys got in the life raft. It took about an hour for the helicopter to pick them up from the raft. Getting into the raft from the boat could have been risky but because of the way she was lying it was easier to get off at the transom and it all happened without too much trouble. The first liferaft was set adrift and the EPIRB was activated as well.

“We’d already started to fashion a jury rudder by chopping the boat up, but had little success. So when the first eight guys got off they actually put out as much rope as they could using spectra halyards, anchor and all the rope they could find, they just threw it out, about 150-200m of it, and when they got off about 1130 it still hadn’t bitten.

“Funnily enough we didn’t find out until the next morning what had happened. We got a phone call from someone who’d seen the boat just off the coast. So we jumped in the car and drove about 20 minutes along the coast and we saw our boat about 2km/1 mile offshore. We were so happy she was still there.

“At that point I got in touch with my insurance company again to let them know the situation and find out if we could use a particular salvage company we’d found. Anyhow, one thing led to another, and because the coastguard were not allowing any boats out of any harbours that day time was running out and the chances of being able to save the boat were, by now, looking fairly slim.

“Eventually what happened, late that afternoon I guess, the line parted from the boat and she was washed up on a rocky beach and that was the end of her. The last I saw of her, she was lying on this rocky beach, the keel had snapped off, the mast had gone and there was a large hole in her deck. It was a very, very sad sight

“A couple of our guys got aboard but she’d been completely trashed. Can you believe she’d already been pilfered? They’d taken anything of value off the boat.

“It belongs to the insurance company now, it’s now their responsibility. They actually own it now and will deal with the local salvage company and see if they can get anything out of it. They may be able to strip winches off if they are still there.”