Lifeboat crew unable to save sinking yacht

13 November 2011 – A DRAMATIC lifeboat rescue took place this week when a yacht ran aground near Beachy Head and was lost to the sea.

Both Eastbourne’s RNLI all-weather lifeboat and inshore lifeboat rushed to the scene and found Eastbourne skipper Ray Pickering, a regular sailor, had hit a ledge and his 30ft vessel was taking on water rapidly.

Poy Pickering’s yacht founders on the rocks off Beachy Head with an RNLI crew in close attendance

It is thought the collision with the rocks created a hole in the boat and despite the best efforts of the lifeboat crews, the yacht had to be abandoned at sea.

Mr Pickering, 69, has been sailing for around 60 years. This yacht was his first big boat and he had owned it since April.

He told the Herald how he likes to sail every week and was on his way back from boat repairs in Newhaven with two friends when the accident happened on Wednesday afternoon.

He said, “I swore when I realised what had happened. I thought I should have gone a bit further out.

“We were stuck on the rocks and the wind was blowing on the shore.

“We couldn’t use the radio because it doesn’t work round there so we had to call 999 from a mobile phone.”

Mr Pickering’s friends made it on to the rocks and to shore before getting a lift home at Holywell.

“There was nothing I could do,” said Mr Pickering.

“I stayed with the boat and waited for the lifeboat.

“When the crews arrived they tried to pump out the water but it didn’t work – it was taking on water too quickly.”

The inshore lifeboat with Peter Needham at the helm, manoeuvred into a position where crewman Andy Chatton could be put onto the ledge and negotiate his way across the treacherous rocks to the grounded yacht.

With the tide in full flood, the sea conditions were becoming increasing more challenging as the rescue progressed.

With the salvage pump unable to cope with the ingress of water, the decision was taken by the combined rescue services that no more could be done to save the vessel which was still stuck fast on the rocks.

Mr Pickering rescued as much deck gear and personal equipment as was possible before being taken aboard the lifeboat and returned to Sovereign Harbour where he was reunited with his crew.

Mark Sawyer, Eastbourne Lifeboat coxswain, said, “We are there to save lives at sea but we will always try and save vessels where we can.

“Unfortunately, in this case saving the yacht was beyond our capabilities.”

Mr Pickering added, “I would like to thank the lifeboat crews, they do a fantastic job.”