Royal Navy sailor Sally Hughes has been decorated with the Queen's Gallantry Medal for helping to rescue 14 people when their boat, Clyde Challenger was dismasted and lost its rudder around 400 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Finisterre

9 November 2017

Royal Navy sailor Sally Hughes has been has been decorated with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and hailed a hero for her part in the rescue of 14 people last February.

The crew of former Clipper yacht Clyde Challenger ran into trouble when their boat was dismasted and lost its rudder around 400 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Finisterre.

Royal Navy sailor Hughes was in charge of driving an inflatable boat to transfer the Clyde Challenger crew on board of HMS Dragon.

She made several attempts over two hours in challenging weather conditions to save the 13 Brits and one American. reports Hughes saying: “I am humbled to have been recognised for my actions during the rescue. I was doing my job in challenging conditions and was but part of a team effort in rescuing the sailors; an action I would hope anyone would do if they were ever to be in a similar situation. ‘There was no place for fear during this rescue. I had been trained to drive the sea boat and whilst the conditions I experienced were significantly more challenging than I had dealt with before I applied my knowledge to achieve the end result.”

Sally Hughes was decorated with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday (7 November).


13 February 2017

UPDATE 16:02

The Clyde Challenger Shore Team has confirmed that the yacht’s skipper and crew have now safely arrived in Lisbon, Portugal.

The 13 Brits and one American were rescued by the Royal Navy’s HMS Dragon after the Clyde Challenger was dismasted and lost its rudder in heavy weather around 400 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Finisterre.

The former Clipper yacht has now been scuttled as it posed a hazard to navigation.

“We have now received confirmation that HMS Dragon was able to depart the crew of Clyde Challenger at Lisbon in the morning of 13th February 2017,” said a statement on the Clyde Challenge Facebook page.

“The crew will now plan the last leg of their trip home with the shore teams assistance where needed.”

“We would like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to the crew of HMS Dragon for escorting our Atlantic adventurers safely ashore and we wish them safe and speedy travels back to their own beds,” concluded the statement.

13 February 2017

The crew of the Clyde Challenger are recovering from their ordeal after they were rescued when the yacht dismasted and lost its rudder around 400 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Finisterre.

The 60-foot yacht has now been scuttled so it doesn’t pose a navigational hazard to other shipping.

A Mayday was issued on the evening of 9 February 2017 after Clyde Challenger was hit by a large rogue wave during passage to the UK.

According to the Clyde Challenge Facebook page, the yacht was “sailing well at the time with a fully reefed mainsail”.

“The impact of the wave knocked the yacht on her side. She recovered within a few seconds, however the mast had been severed at deck level. In addition the instrument pole at the stern of the yacht was also severed and a number of safety related items and communication systems were lost,” said the post.

Once the crew of 13 Brits and one American were accounted for and were found not to be in need of urgent medical attention, the crew then “executed the appropriate procedures to alert other vessels in the area of their issue and triggered their long range satellite emergency beacon.”

The UK Coastguard’s National Maritime Operations Centre coordinated the long-range search and rescue mission.

The Coastguard used satellite communications to request vessels able to assist the yacht to contact UK Coastguard and several responded with offers of help.

The first merchant vessel on scene was the Industrial Challenger on the evening of 9 February 2017.

It established contact with the Clyde Challenger and communicated with UK Coastguard about the issues with the vessel and the wellbeing of the crew.

A C130 Hercules aircraft from 47 Squadron RAF Brize Norton arrived on scene at 8am on 10 February 2017 and immediately located the Clyde Challenger.

It provided on-scene communications to all of the vessels, aircraft and operations rooms involved in the mission.

The Hercules was soon joined by the bulk carrier MV Cape Breeze.

A UK Coastguard officer at the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Hampshire which deals with incidents in international waters

An officer at the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Hampshire. Credit: MCA

Due to the storm force conditions on scene, the master of the bulk carrier deemed it too dangerous to close on the stricken yacht to facilitate a rescue.

The merchant vessels, CPO Finland and Sti Dama, arrived on the afternoon of 10 February 2017 at which time the Hercules was replaced by a US Air Force KC 135 Tanker from 100th Air Refuelling Wing based at RAF Mildenhall.

With weather on scene still precluding rescue efforts the MV Cape Breeze and Sti Dama were released.

The CPO Finland remained on scene and attempted – without success – to rescue the crew three times.

Following liaison with UK Coastguard, the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dragon, which was 500 nautical miles away, began making its way towards the Clyde Challenger.

Prior to the arrival of HMS Dragon, the US Air Force 352nd Special Operations Group V22 Ospreys based out of RAF Mildenhall were cued up to attempt a long range option, but due to the weather on scene this option was not viable.

On the morning of 11 February 2017,  the first of two US Navy patrol aircraft out of US Naval Air Station Sigonella (Sicily), replaced the Tanker aircraft as on scene communications coordinator. The merchant vessel Antimilos also arrived on scene.

The Royal Navy T45 Destroyer HMS Dragon arrived on scene 2.45 pm and began the rescue of the 14 sailors using their Pacific 24 foot Sea Boat.

All crew had been rescued by 4.50 pm, and after being given medical check-ups, were able to contact their families.

“Due to the severity of the damage to the yacht, the loss of equipment and the forecast weather the skipper was left with no option but to scuttle the yacht to ensure she did not represent a hazard to navigation”, said the post on the Clyde Challenger Facebook page.

“The crew are now under the care of the Royal Navy and in good hands. They will have had a frightening experience when the yacht was knocked over however we are proud of the way in which the crew training and procedures were executed to maintain the vessel as a suitable shelter while transfer was arranged.”

HMS Dragon is expected to disembark the crew mid week, and arrangements are being made by the owner of Clyde Challenger to get them home.

The skipper, crew and shore team behind Clyde Challenger and the UK Coastguard are thanking all the vessels which responded to the Mayday.


10 February 2017

In the last 48 hours, the UK Coastguard has helped coordinate two long range search and rescue operations in international waters, involving a total of 15 Brits.

Difficult weather conditions resulted in the crew of the yacht Clyde Challenger broadcasting a Mayday on VHF radio at around 8pm last night (9 February 2017).

The yacht, which has a crew of 14, 13 of whom are British, is currently 365 nautical miles off Cape Finisterre.

The Mayday was picked up by a nearby vessel and communications were subsequently established with the vessel through a Hercules C130 aircraft sent from RAF Brize Norton.

A cargo ship is currently on the scene providing shelter to the Clyde Challenger while the crew assesses their next step.

New long range point of contact for UK Coastguard

UK Coastguard duty controller, Kaimes Beasley, said: “The weather conditions on scene are quite challenging with force 6- 7 winds, rough seas and poor to moderate visibility.”

“We are in contact with a number of national and international search and rescue partners and other organisations, including the owner of the vessel, to bring this operation to a safe and successful conclusion”, he added.

Meanwhile, the UK Coastguard has also assisted in the rescue of two British rowers in the Atlantic, after their boat began to take water after sustaining a broken rudder.

Officers received a distress signal from a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) just after 9am yesterday morning (9 February 2017) from the two-man ocean rowing boat crew.

They were approximately 900 nautical miles east-north-east of Martinique.

The rowing boat had left Gran Canaria en route to Barbados when the crew experienced problems with a broken rudder. They were also low on food.

Unable to establish satellite phone contact with the vessel, the UK Coastguard immediately sent the position information of the PLB to the MRCC Fort de France in Martinique.

MRCC Fort de France broadcast a Mayday Relay to nearby vessels in the area to assist.

Toby Wallace crew were insufficiently prepared for Atlantic crossing

Two vessels responded, the one closest – a cargo vessel only 10 nautical miles away – diverted its course and made its way to the stricken vessel.

The two crew are now on board the cargo ship and making their way to Gibraltar.

Commenting on the operation, senior maritime operations officer for UK Coastguard, Ross Parkinson, said: “This was a lengthy and demanding long range rescue taking place 900 nautical miles from Martinique. The rowers were incredibly lucky that a nearby vessel was only a few hours away because by the time help arrived the rowing vessel had started taking on water.

“This incident shows you how important it is to be prepared for your voyage and have several means of contacting the Coastguard or raising an alarm, even if you are not in UK waters”, he continued.

“In this case, the PLB (which was recovered at the scene) was able to give us accurate positioning information, this meant that we were able to provide MRCC Fort de France with precise details, allowing help to be diverted accurately,” stressed Parkinson.

“Whilst the incident was unfolding, the UK Coastguard maintained a watchful eye over the situation regularly liaising with foreign authorities”, he said.

“Our priority is to protect life at sea and we will always do everything possible to provide assistance for a mariner in need. In the event we can’t get there ourselves, we do our best to identify someone who can which is exactly what we did in this case” stated Parkinson.

“Two vessels responded to the Mayday Relay broadcast that was issued – one 10 nm away and one 100nm away – largely as a result of the remote area the incident was in. Thankfully the rowers are now on board the cargo ship and are reported to be safe and well,” he added.