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Yachtsman recalls storm before rescue by QM2 – ‘I’ve been treated like a prince’

Mervyn Wheatley was taking part in a solo transatlantic race when his boat was severely damaged in an “extreme” storm.

A 73-year-old solo yachtsman rescued by the Queen Mary 2 from his stricken yacht in the North Atlantic considered sailing 1,500 miles back to Britain before he was picked up.

Mervyn Wheatley, a former Royal Marine officer, was taking part in a solo transatlantic race when his boat was severely damaged and swamped with water in an “extreme” storm. He reportedly believed he could rescue himself, with a plan involving a garden hose, but eventually opted to complete the crossing aboard the luxury cruise ship.

“It would have put a lot of strain on my family. I also realised things were getting pretty marginal,” he told The Times from the QM2.

Having never been on a cruise before, the experienced yachtsman had dinner with the captain in a borrowed jacket before returning to his state room – with private balcony and concierge – on Sunday night.

Several yachts in the Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC) Original Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, known as Ostar, and its two-handed competition were hit by the tempest last week. Tossed around in 15m waves and lashed by winds reaching 80mph, Mr Wheatley’s yacht, Tamarind, was knocked on its side, submerging the mast and breaking a window.

As the Atlantic ocean poured in, Mr Wheatley plugged the hole with cushions, and he believed he could siphon out the water with a length of garden hose. However, a wind vane used to self-steer and a steering cable had also broken in the squall that also knocked out his electrics, leaving him without a means of communication.

An automatic emergency beacon on board was detected by UK Coastguard teams and their Canadian counterparts at around 4am on Friday. Initially a cargo ship diverted to pick him up, although they were not adequately equipped to bring him on deck.

“I thought he was going to lower a rope but I couldn’t have climbed it when I was 26 in those huge seas, let alone aged 73,” Mr Wheatley said.

When an RAF Hercules monitoring the operation from the air told him the QM2 was nearby, he joked that he would prefer the liner. After 36 hours pumping water from his stricken yacht by hand, he was lifted aboard the cruise ship at around 1pm on Saturday. Passengers greeted him with applause as he and the rescue boat were hoisted on to the 10th deck.

“I deliberately didn’t acknowledge it because I didn’t deserve it. The people who deserved it were the boat crew,” he said.

Mr Weatley, an experienced sailor with 19 transatlantic crossings – eight of them single-handed – under his belt, admitted being “snooty” about cruises prior to his ordeal. However, impressed by its well-drilled rescue team and facilities on board, his opinion appears to have changed.

“I think I did incomparably better being rescued by the QM2, certainly as far as the aftercare is concerned. I have been treated like a prince,” he told the newspaper.

Mr Wheatley, a father-of-two, of Newton Ferrers, Devon, served 33 years as in the Royal Marines, according to the RWYC. Mr Wheatley, who escaped serious injury save some “impressive bruises” in the ordeal, vowed to buy another boat and continue sailing.

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