A yacht crew spot a man overboard in the Gibraltar Strait and carry out this miraculous rescue

A sharp lookout and quick action by the crew of a British yacht in the Gibraltar Strait saved the life of a motorboater who had leapt off his burning boat a few weeks ago. It goes to show that in this age of fly-by-wire button punching from beneath the shelter of the sprayhood a really good Mk 1 eyeball watch is indispensable.

The yachtsman, Dr Robert Bard, and crew sailing his Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2 rescued the man from the water and brought him ashore after failing to raise emergency services on VHF radio.

‘We were on our way down to Las Palmas from Gosport for the ARC [transatlantic rally],’ reports Dr Bard. ‘It was a lovely day we spent the morning there and on the way back in the early afternoon about six miles out from Cueta on a direct course for Gibraltar.

‘One of the crew asked me if I could see a red flare in the water about three quarters of a mile to the west. The sea state was slight to moderate.

‘At first none of us could see it, but when I looked through the binoculars I could see a tiny red glow on the water.

‘We all discussed whether it really was a flare, and whether to investigate. We decided that, on the slim basis it might be a flare and it might be real, and one day might be one of us, we would sail westwards and have a look.

‘As we got nearer another crewmember said that what we thought was perhaps a lobster pot or some sort of buoy was actually a man in the water in an old fashioned red lifejacket.

‘It came as a shock. What sort of state would he be in? And we had large container ships passing within hundreds of metres of us and him!

‘The bathing ladder was put down, the crew pulled him round the back of the yacht, lifted him on board. The casualty was a middle aged, Spanish man.

‘It seems he had been in the water for about 20 to 30 minutes. He had been out in a small day boat and it caught fire. He grabbed some flares and a lifejacket and jumped in.

‘As we got him on board he started sobbing. I spent half an hour trying to get a response from the authorities and find out where to take him. On Channel 16 there was total silence. Tariffa Control responded only in Spanish and said something about sending a rescue boat, but never bothered asking our position.

‘There was no answer from any of the frequencies given in Reeds Almanac for any of the surrounding authorities. I called Gibraltar police on the mobile phone. No answer.

‘In the end the incident was dealt with by the Marina Bay staff, who had an ambulance waiting on the jetty as we pulled in.’

See our full report in the forthcoming November issue of Yachting World.