Solo sailor and a family with three young children are rescued - and discover a bizarre link


Two round the world crews were rescued west of Cape Horn last week after being dismasted, only to find their histories had been intertwined seven years ago after a rescue in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Solo sailor Andrew Halcrow (above right) was airlifted by a Chilean Navy helicopter from his 32ft steel yacht on 8 March after he was dismasted in breaking seas west of Cape Horn. This is the second time he has been rescued; in 2006 he was taken off by ship around 350 miles south of Australia after suffering appendicitis.

Meanwhile, some 200 miles to the south, US couple James Burwick and Somira Sao and their three young children were also dismasted, but too far for helicopter rescue and a Naval ship was sent to save them.

Andrew Halcrow, 54, from Shetland, was on his third round the world voyage in Elsi Arrub, a 32ft ketch he built himself in the 1980s. He had passed Cape Horn and was making slow progress in large, confused seas.

He was capsized at one point, and thinks now that this may have weakened the mast. “We had been hit 12 hours before [the dismasting] by a massive wave, which threw us over. The worst one yet. It’s possible the shock load from that maybe weakened the mast as well. If you had been in a car, you would have thought a truck had slammed into you.”

His mast broke in weather he described as ‘wild with big seas’. He called his wife, Alyson, in Shetland and she writes that it was ‘with huge regret’ that the called a Mayday to Shetland Coastguard, who passed on the distress to MRCC Chile. A ship was diverted to Halcrow’s position, while a helicopter was tasked from Punta Arenas, refuelling at Felix Island at the entrance to the Magellan Straits.

Halcrow was winched off the boat with one bag of belongings that he was allowed to take with him.

It was while recovering in Chile that he found out about the other yacht crew rescued after being dismasted during the same storm. James Burwick, Somira Sao and their three children, Tormetina, 5, Raivo, 3, and baby Pearl, 1, were sailing from New Zealand round Cape Horn in their Open 50 Anasazi Girl.

Anasazi Girl lost her rig too far for air rescue, and was picked up by a Chilean Navy ship in what was described as a very difficult rescue and the boat towed to Puerto Williams.

A strange twist to the story is that Anasazi Girl’s crew had inadvertently brought about the salvage of Halcrow’s yacht back in 2007. Halcrow had to abandon his yacht in 2006 after evacuating to a ship with appendicitis and then being airlifted to hospital for an emergency operation.

The reason it was found was because, the following February, Anasazi Girl had rig problems on passage across the Indian Ocean south of Australia. They were able to sail, but a plane was sent by the Australian Coastguard to check up on them. During that recce, the aircraft spotted Elsi Arrub, gave the UK Coastguard a position for her and Halcrow was able to charter a fishing boat from the Australian port of Albany and eventually recover the yacht.

The two skippers were astounded they had ended up together in Chile seven years later. ‘I was able to speak to James as they came ashore. He couldn’t believe it either,’ comments Halcrow. ‘It’s a completely bizarre twist to this story, one that I find almost unbelievable.’

The photo above shows the two skippers together, Andrew Halcrow on the left, James Burwick far right, with a Chilean friend in the centre.

Recovering Elsi Arrub will, he fears, be more difficult. Halcrow has made contact with a Chilean oceanographer who has visited Shetland and offered to help organise a charter vessel to try to find the yacht. However, the boat has no EPIRB or tracker on board and Halcrow admits it will be ‘like looking for a needle in a haystack’, and he fears it may already have driven ashore.