Three rescued after collision in yacht race

THREE CREW MEMBERS were brought to safety off the North Wexford coastline on Saturday after three sailing yachts dramatically collided during a race, sinking a Courtown boat.

Skipper Iain Biddulph was the last step off his boat, across to a Courtown Sailing Club rescue boat, as his yacht 'Animal' sank beneath the waves.

The collision occurred at the start of the second race in the annual Kilmichael Regatta organised between Arklow and Courtown Sailing Club.

Larger Arklow boats Aquelina and Exposure were also damaged in the collision, but Animal, a 26 ft. Benneteau yacht, was holed in her rear quarter in a collision with Aquelina, and quickly began taking on water. She then spun around and collided with Exposure.

All three on board, including Iain Biddulph and crew members Mark McKernan and Sarah Halford were extremely lucky avoid serious injury, and the crew were taken to a nearby Courtown Sailing Club rescue boat which was supervising the start of the race. Iain then sent out a mayday call to the Coastguard and Arklow RNLI Lifeboat was dispatched to the scene.

All three were then taken to Aquelina, which stayed at the scene to lend assistance, and within 10 minutes, Animal was beneath the waves.

The Lifeboat crew managed to attach a tow line, and brought the stricken vessel close to the shore, where she remained under water, anchored, out of harm's way for other seagoing vessels.

Owner Iain Biddulph was philosophical about the incident. 'I want to thank Arklow Sailing Club, Courtown Sailing Club and Arklow RNLI Lifeboat for their swift and welcome assistance,' he said. 'It was a competitive race, and it can only be likened to the start of a Formula One Grand Prix race, at the first corner where everybody wants the most advantageous place on the race track.

' You know the risks, and that's what makes it exciting,' he said. 'I'm greatly relieved no-one was seriously injured. It's only a boat and it can be replaced.'

A spokesperson for Courtown Sailing Club said they have never lost a vessel while sailing before, and that they were greatly relieved no-one was badly hurt.

' Everybody's very shaken,' she said. 'It all happened very quickly. It's heartbreaking to see anybody lose their boat, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is everybody is safe.

It's hoped to recover the boat in the coming days, when the damage will be assessed.

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