A lone sailor sparked a dramatic major sea search and rescue off the Eastbourne coast at the weekend which ended up with his battered boat being washed up on the beach and having to be guarded by police and coastguards amid fears there were explosives on board.
The man was eventually arrested under the Mental Health Act after helicopters, coastguards, lifeboat crews, paramedics and police officers all worked in atrocious weather conditions for several hours throughout Friday night and into the small hours of Saturday morning.
The drama unfolded on Friday morning when the Eastbourne all-weather lifeboat was launched after a lone yachtsman onboard the Marie Celeste was in difficulty off the Bexhill coast but refused all offers of help and only made sporadic radio contact.
Coastguards monitored the slow progress of the yacht against wind and tide throughout the day and became concerned for the safety of the vessel and its skipper.
On Friday evening at 8pm as driving rain and gale force winds battered the coast, the skipper put out a Mayday distress call to the coastguard saying his 36 feet yacht was running aground on the beach below South Cliff Tower.
The lifeboat was launched a second time but because of the low tide and breaking surf couldn’t get close to the boat and asked for the coastguard rescue helicopter to be scrambled to potentially pluck the yachtsman from his doomed vessel should the opportunity arise.
Because of the high seas and the yacht’s broken mast the helicopter was unable to lower a winchman onto the floundering vessel so coastguards Tony Brinnand and Andy Lee waded out to the vessel and eventually had to drag the skipper, who was reluctant to leave his boat, out through the cabin hatch to safety.
He was treated by paramedics and then arrested by police officers.
During the rescue, coastguards noticed there were contaminated flares on the boat which are regarded as firearms and potentially lethal so the bomb disposal unit was called in to assess the situation.
The team disposed of the flares on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday 400 litres of diesel were pumped from the yacht’s engine.
Eastbourne Borough Council was in the process of arranging for the boat to be removed from the beach as the Gazette went to press yesterday (Monday).
Stuart McNab, the station officer for Eastbourne coastguards, said, “The job proved to be difficult because of the tidal conditions and the boat being unstable and our first attempt to reach the casualty was unsuccessful, however on a second attempt we did manage to reach the man and drag him through the water to safety.
“The team did a remarkable job and should be very proud of themselves, apart from getting very wet and cold it was a successful conclusion to the incident. This was an example of inter-service working as we had the assistance of Sussex Police, the Lifeboat and the Community First Responders and the coastguard would like to thank them for their invaluable help.”
A spokesperson for Sussex Police said the drama was a coastguard led incident but police arrested the man and helped maintain the safety of the vessel until it was removed from the beach, which was cordoned off and drew a crowd of spectators after the story hit the national headlines throughout the weekend.
The spokesman said, “Emergency services became aware of the vessel at around 8.20pm on Friday March 15 which was first seen near the pier. At around 10.45pm coastguards were able to rescue the one man on board, a 65-year-old local man, who was taken to Eastbourne District General Hospital and detained under the Mental Health Act.”