By RYAN TAYLOR
THE skipper of a yacht which sparked a dramatic search and rescue operation has defended his actions after coming under fire from coastguard officers.
A major operation to find the 31 foot motor yacht Nina swung into action on Saturday when coastguard workers failed to make contact with the vessel through its on-board VHF radio.
The two-man crew from Faroe were sailing alongside another vessel, the Gerd, from Torshavn to Orkney when high winds widened the gap that lay between them.
By the time the crew of the Gerd arrived at a pre-arranged stop off point in Foula, the Nina was nowhere to be seen.
A rescue operation, involving Shetland Coastguard’s search and rescue helicopter, Oscar Charlie, as well as an RAF Nimrod from Kinloss, was swung into action.
The coastguard became concerned when it failed to contact skipper Jogvan Waagstein on his on-board VHF radio.
The Nina is also stocked with a modern emergency radio beacon, and both Mr Waagstein and his crew member Eydvn Jesperson – who between them own the yacht – had mobile phones.
But Mr Waagstein, an experienced sailor who has undertaken the same journey single-handedly in the past, said he was never concerned about his safety.
He maintained his VHF radio was on at all times, although he says it may have been faulty if communication was lost.
“We were following another boat from Faroe, but there was more wind than we thought there would be.”
He said he and Mr Jesperson arranged with the Gerd’s crew to meet up in Foula, but the Nina was soon left behind thanks to the other vessel’s powerful motor.
“They came over to Foula on Friday, but we got more and more wind, so it was a problem to get to Foula in the right time,” he said.
“The Gerd has 300 horse power and we have only a little engine. On Saturday morning, when we were not coming, they began to be a little bit worried.
“We were sailing over, but it took time to come over. We were only doing two knots when we would normally do five to six knots, but the other yacht can do 30 knots.
“The Faroese radio told us we did not have the radio on channel 16, but that’s not really true.
“We had both channels eight and 16 on, but we did not hear anything. Maybe there is some problem with the radio, because we had it on the whole time.”
By the afternoon the crew of the Gerd was so concerned they called the coastguard, which immediately started ringing ports and harbours to see if the yacht had been spotted. After a series of failed pan pan broadcasts, and confirmation from the Faroese coastguard the crew had not returned home, the search and rescue helicopter was scrambled.
A helicopter from Kinloss also began tracking a possible path taken by the yacht from Foula back to Faroe.
As the alert was raised to a full Mayday signal, coastguard officials in Aberdeen were notified and oil and gas installations between Faroe and Shetland were asked to keep an eye out.
The search was only called off when coastguard officers in Faroe received a call from the Nina’s crew, who were sailing to port in Scalloway.
“We phoned Faroe and they told us the coastguard was looking for us and, okay, there was a problem,” said Mr Waagstein.
“We called the other boat and they told us there was a search for us and asked us to phone the coastguard.
“We came to Scalloway and the coastguard came on board and looked after our boat. The coastguard were very helpful, and very friendly, but we were not in any danger. I’ve done this trip a lot of times. In 2002 I did it in 53 hours.”
Coastguard watch manager Katrina Hampson said she was disappointed the crew were unaware of the major attempts to find them.
“We are delighted that the yacht was located with the two Faroese gentlemen safe and well on board, but frankly we are a little perplexed that such a major search seemed to pass them by,” she said.