A 72-YEAR-OLD lone Scottish sailor swept overboard by a 30-ft wave off the country’s north-west coast said he was “lucky to be alive”.
Retiree Gerry Beard arrived safely back on dry land at Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, at about 3:30am yesterday after a harrowing rescue operation that lasted 14 hours.
He had been sailing home from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik to Shieldaig, in Wester Ross, to complete an 11-day journey when trouble struck in rough Atlantic waters about 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis.
Mr Beard was attempting to open the hatch on his 29-ft yacht Meris when a giant wave struck, knocking him into the water and damaging the cabin door in the process.
Last night Mr Beard said he believed he had been over-prepared for the voyage but could have never predicted the severity of the conditions.
He said the waves that threatened his life had “come out of nowhere and engulfed the vessel,” leaving it half full of water.
He added: “I feel lucky to be alive.”
The experienced mariner, who escaped the incident without injury, was thrown back on board by another wave before activating his vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).
A seven-person Stornoway lifeboat team and a search-and-rescue helicopter responded to the distress call at about 1:30pm on Saturday.
The helicopter took an hour to reach the stricken vessel where its crew kept an eye on the sailor until the lifeboat arrived at about 5pm.
It took almost 11 hours for the waterlogged yacht to be towed back to Stornoway where Mr Beard will spend several days repairing his boat.
Stornoway Lifeboat Coxswain Murdo Campbell described the weather conditions as wild.