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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Sailors salute their Cumbrian saviours

A sailor at the centre of a dramatic rescue operation has praised the bravery of a lifeboat crew.

Rescued sailors photo
Tim, Susan and Walter Burrow

Walter Burrow, 67, and his son Tim, 41, were sailing their yacht towards Whitehaven when they got into trouble in treacherous weather.

Workington’s RNLI crew came to their rescue after unexpected wind speeds took their toll on the vessel.

Walter, who lives in south Cumbria, said the lifeboat crew went above and beyond the call of duty to get him and his son, who were suffering from hypothermia and severe sea sickness, to safety.

He also thanked the staff who reassured his frantic wife Susan while she waited for news in Whitehaven – and even booked them into a local hotel while they were being treated in hospital.

The two men left Largs in Scotland in their 41ft yacht Never Satisfied on Monday afternoon. They planned to move it to Whitehaven to get it ready to take to the Mediterranean later this year.

Walter said as they got nearer to Cumbria conditions worsened. “The wind picked up and it started to get more choppy. The winds were stronger than anticipated but we were at the north of the Solway Firth and there was nowhere for us to moor up. We decided we would be better to carry on and at that point we were still riding the waves nicely,” he said.

However although the boat was moving through the water well, the winds were then pushing them backwards – resulting in fuel going down quicker than expected.

On top of this gales were rising to an unexpected force nine. They ploughed on but ran out of fuel about 12 miles out of Whitehaven.

They sent out an alert and were told help was on its way, but in the meantime they were drifting towards St Bees.

A nearby fishing boat heard their call and came to meet them until the Workington lifeboat could find them.

By this point the two men had been soaked through by giant waves and were freezing, while Walter was suffering from awful sea sickness.

“We were both getting more and more cold. My body temperature was down to about 33 degrees when we finally got to safety,” said Walter.

When the lifeboat arrived conditions were so bad nobody could get across onto the yacht. Instead they attached a line and tried to tow it to shore – but the sea was so wild the rope snapped. “They were so brave. At first they tried to get some crew members across on a dinghy attached to a rope but it was too dangerous.

“Then the coxwain managed to get the lifeboat in close enough for one guy called Steve to jump across. He was brilliant. He gave us sea sickness tablets and we tried again, but it snapped again – by which point we were starting to deteriorate further.”

The crew scrambled a rescue helicopter but conditions were too bad to attempt to winch them from the boat. Instead they were sent below deck to try to get warm while the crew carried on.

When they arrived in Whitehaven the two sailors were taken straight to a waiting ambulance and driven to the West Cumberland Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia. Susan, who had been looked after by harbour staff, said: “They were all incredible. I was waiting for them coming in so when I realised they were in difficulty I didn’t know what to do.

“They calmed me down and gave me cups of tea. They even booked us a room at the Waverley Hotel and made sure someone would be there to let us in when they were released from hospital. I just can’t thank any of them enough.”

The boat sustained significant damage but is repairable. Walter added: “Everyone involved in the rescue was amazing. These people don’t know us but put their lives at risk. It was so professional it was as if they had been rehearsing this specific rescue for months.

“They were all local people from west Cumbria and I just want to say a huge thank you from myself and my son.

The family are now planning to raise funds for the RNLI to say thank you.

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