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Irish sailor stranded in the Pacific with 'makeshift' mast and 'limited steering' attempting to get to rescue area

By Cormac Byrne

Irish sailor Enda O’Coineen is battling to make his way back to dry land after being blown off-course 200 miles from civilisation.

The 60-year-old Galway native is stranded 200 miles from Dunedin after the mast on his vessel 'Kilcullen Voyager' broke on New Year's Day as he competed in the Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race.

At the time of the incident he was lying in 15th place after 56 days and over 24,000km of sailing but his autopilot malfunctioned in a 35-knot (65kph) squall and the mast snapped.

He had been sailing blind but has managed to build a makeshift mast, although he is struggling to steer the boat in the direction of the port on New Zealand's southern island.

Speaking to Independent.ie today, he said: "Basically I just have to be patient. I'm outside of all of the rescue areas. I've enough food to last me for quite a period of time, so I just have to wait for the winds to become move favourable.

"I've no mast so I've rigged up a temporary jury rig and I'm trying to get to New Zealand waters. It's not a happy situation but I just have to be patient.

"I'm not in any distress, I have enough food but I just have to be patient. I'm not calling the rescue services. The hull is strong. I lost my mast two days ago. I'm not happy but I've no choice. It's one of the most remote oceans in the world.

"The wind is quite light and I'm going very slowly. I'm here on my own in a boat, not a happy situation but that's what I signed up for and that's the risk I took.

"I have limited steering and that makes it difficult.

"I used two carbon sail batons and I made a temporary structure to hold a small sail and that's what I'm relying on to get me to New Zealand.

"I've enough food. I'm not in a life or death situation, it's just going to take a lot of time."

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The closest vessel to 'Kilcullen Voyager', which has a Claddagh symbol on the front, is 180 miles away which means that Enda must sail 50 miles on a busted boat to get within rescue distance of New Zealand.

Asked how long it could take to get back to New Zealand, he added: "It could be week. I just don't know. I've never been in this situation before so I just have to be patient. If I do need to be rescued, it's outside the rescue area. The furthest the helicopter can come is 150 miles. I'm outside of that range. If I can get within 150 miles, I have a better chance.

"It is kind of bizarre to think. It's the morning in Ireland and I'm 13 hours ahead of you in the pitch black.

"There is a shipping alert out to keep an eye out for me but there is a cruise group 350 miles further south and then the closest fishing boat is 180 miles away.

"The wind is light but I'm being blown a bit further south which is worrying me. I'm trying to get north obviously."

Under the rules of the race, if he gets any outside assistance he will be out of the race.

O'Coineen has the option of trying to obtain a new mast in New Zealand, shipping the boat home or leaving it in New Zealand.

"I'm kind of out of the race anyhow. My focus is just to get to a safe port."

O'Coineen was attempting to be the first Irishman to sail solo, non-stop around the world in the Vendee Globe race - in the process promoting the Atlantic Youth Trust Charity and a schools programme.

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