Yachties’ frightening whale of a time

2012-11-12 00:00

THREE Réunion Island sailors had a narrow escape when a baleen whale breached underneath their yacht as they sailed over a 200 metre deep shelf.

Telling their story while sipping on espressos, retired importer Michel Riou along with Michel “Mimi” Banderier and Pascal Thomas, both retired engineering lecturers from Lycée Lislet Geoffrey, Saint Denis, were aboard their nine ton yacht Tiki, when the whale breached right underneath the boat on November 4 off the coast of Fort Dauphin, Madagascar.

Having made the remainder of the journey by sail, on Saturday evening they eventually required the assistance of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Richards Bay to tow in their 31 metre vessel to the port of Richards Bay.

Réunion to Richards Bay is about 1 350 nautical miles.

“Myself and Pascal were sleeping and Mimi was at the wheel when it happened,” said Riou.

“The hit was incredibly loud. We thought we have been badly damaged.

“However, from our immediate analysis it seemed to be only our motor. We believe our shaft is also damaged and severed from the motor. We were forced to use only our sails. Thankfully our rudder remained intact,” said Riou.

He said they managed to identify the whale, which was still a baby, by its fin.

The seadogs, bearded and sunburnt, are sailing around the world with no date set for when they will finally return home.

They have been friends for 35 years and each is well travelled. However, this is their first major sail aboard Tiki.

“We are en route to Tahiti. The great thing about being French nationals is there are French islands throughout the world such as our end destination.

“We will most likely be in Richards Bay for a week provided we can make the repairs,” said Riou.

Translated by an American yachtswoman, Andrea Quigley, Mimi said the service they had received from the NSRI was simply amazing.

“This is my first time in South Africa and we are very impressed. The service we received from the NSRI is better than that of Réunion.

“Ten volunteers came out to meet us, of which five jumped aboard the yacht to secure the boat and … they towed us in. They were very helpful assisting us with mooring and giving us advice,” said Mimi.

Having left families back home, the three men plan to do port calls along the South African coastline and then by January head to the British colony of St Helena, then to Brazil and up to the Panama Canal.

• zulunews2@feveronline.co.za

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