The crew of a German yacht, including two children, taking part in the ARC transatlantic rally have been rescued after it began sinking and they could not trace the source of the leak


A crew of five taking part in the ARC transatlantic rally has been rescued after their yacht began sinking yesterday. The crew of the German-flagged Noah: Alexander Grefrath, his wife, Alexandra, their two sons aged 12 and 10 and crewmember Jörg Zeibig, were evacuated to a research ship, the RRS James Cook.

The yacht, a one-off aluminium-built BM39 by Berckemeyer Yacht Design, began taking on large amounts of water three days after the start of the rally from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia. Grefrath and his crew were some 340 miles south-west of Gran Canaria at the time.

They were unable to locate the source of the breach.

The skipper contacted ARC rally control at 1218UTC on 23 November, and was given some advice about trying to locate where the water was coming in, but he was unable to do so.

Grefrath issued a Mayday at 1409UTC when the water level had risen to above the level of the batteries and the electric pumps were no longer functioning. The crew were unable to control the inflow of water with the boat’s manual pumps.

The Mayday was received by MRCC Tenerife and a number of other ARC yachts. Those closest altered course to stand by: yachts Ocean Dream, White Satin and Step by Step 2. A request to all ships by the Maritime Co-ordination Centre was answered by the James Cook and, after the Grefaths accepted assistance from the vessel, ARC yachts were released to continue on their way.

The evacuation of the crew of Noah happened in late afternoon the same day, with children and adults getting off the yacht at 1645UTC and transferring across on liferaft. The RRS James Cook is en route for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, with an expected arrival of early morning on 25 November.

The location and drift of the yacht has been monitored via an onboard YellowBrick tracker and it is expected to sink completely in the next 24 hours.

The position of the yacht Noah when it sank

The position of the yacht Noah when it sank

In an email from on board the ship, Alexander Grefrath wrote: ‘We confirm we are safe on our way to Tenerife. During the whole time we, and all involved parties, remained calm and kept the situation under full control and were rational; we were able to make professional use of VHF Mayday communication. I am convinced that we kept calm due to training and education and good equipment mostly inspired by the ARC safety guidelines…

‘So, also big thanks to the professional preparation of the event. It obviously is worth its money.’

Describing the hours leading up to the evacuation, Vicki Addey, from the ARC yacht White Satin, wrote: ‘At 14:20 we intercepted a Mayday call from a neighbouring boat…We were only five miles north of their position so we pulled down the sails and immediately motored over to them – it took us about an hour to reach them.

Step by Step, a catamaran, also arrived shortly after us. However, in the  meantime, a British ship, James Cook, also attended the scene. All four boats were in constant communication with each other and Noah must have been reassured to know that help was on the way.

‘We stood by until James Cook arrived. The family on Noah deployed their liferaft. The rescue operation was managed most professionally by the captain of James Cook. He allowed them to drift towards him and then the passengers climbed up scrambling nets on the side of the ship to safety.

‘The lady of the Noah contacted us after their rescue to let us know that they are all safe and well and to thank us for our support. Our hearts go out to them and we wish  them well for whatever happens now. We are very grateful that we are on the ARC and surrounded by so many helpful hands.

‘Sobering times.’

The cause of the sinking may never be known. In a similar-sounding incident on last year’s ARC rally, the crew of British yacht Magritte was evacuated to a ship after their yacht begin taking on large amounts of water and soon became sluggish and unstable. The crew were unable to locate the source and remain mystified as to the cause.

You can read the story of the 2015 sinking here.