The crew of the Tilly Mint, who answered a mayday call from the Coombes family on board Dove II, have released a video of the mid-Atlantic rescue

25 January 2017

It was suppose to be a trip of a lifetime for the Coombes family from Newquay, Cornwall.

Instead, they were forced to abandon their yacht, Dove II, just weeks into their journey after rudder problems and heavy weather in the mid-Atlantic.

Read an account of the family’s ordeal in their own words below

Now a video of the rescue of James and Fran Coombes, their children, nine-year-old Heath and Isla, aged seven, along with family friend Tony White, has been released by those who saved them.

The British crew of the Discovery 67, Tilly Mint answered the Coombes’ Mayday call after days at sea with no rudder and no steering.

Fran, her two children and Tony White used Dove II’s life raft to transfer to Tilly Mint.

James was forced to abandon just moments later when the main sail sheet and the genoa sheet snapped and the ropes became wrapped around the prop.

The Coombes family is still appealing for help in tracing Dove II, and are offering a $10,000 reward for the safe recovery of the yacht and their possessions.

Dove II was last seen 460 nautical miles due east of Antigua in the Caribbean.

The family are currently recovering from their ordeal in St Martin.


12 January 2017

The dreams of the Coombes family were shattered on 21 December 2016 when following rudder failure, they were left with no option but to abandon their yacht, Dove II during heavy weather in the mid-Atlantic.

James and Fran Coombes and their children, nine-year-old Heath and Isla, aged seven, were just beginning their journey around the world when disaster struck.

Now the family, who are from Newquay, Cornwall, are offering a $10,000 reward for the safe recovery of the yacht and their possessions.

The Coombes last saw Dove II 460 nautical miles due east of Antigua in the Caribbean, and believe the yacht is “drifting towards the islands”.

They were on passage from Portugal to Barbados with a family friend, 71-year-old Tony White, when their rudder disintegrated and they were left with no steering.

Coombes family after abandoning Dove II

Fran Coombes and her two children. Credit: Go Fund Me

With no way to control the 50-foot boat, they spent three days being punished by four to six metre waves while trying to jury rig an emergency rudder.

Describing the ordeal on her blog, Fran Coombes wrote: “This was not a good situation to be in, in fact it was everything I feared happening to us. The good news at this point, because when it goes wrong you’ve got to find some good, were that because the stock was still in place we weren’t taking on water, also the children though aware of what had happened were unconcerned and quickly fell asleep.”

“I was in a very dark place, we were side on (broad side) to the wind, which becomes very loud and very there when your not going with it but also to the swell, so we were rolling badly with the boat being knocked down with each set that came through, it was terrifying…”

The family contacted Falmouth Coastguard who coordinated with Fort de France in Martinique.

Missing sailor made his own way home after falling overboard

Within four hours, the 190-metre bulk carrier cargo ship, Newseas Jade, arrived on the scene and attempted to rescue the family.

But despite five attempts, the ship was unable to come alongside in the 30-knot winds.

“Newseas Jade prepared to come alongside, now it’s 2 in the morning, there is no moon, it’s basically pitch black and as they approached we realised the size of the vessel and what we were about to attempt. Newseas Jade is bulk carrier cargo ship, she is 190 meters long and over 30 metres wide, she is massive and in the dark, in a rolly sizeable sea, with no control of your own 16 metre boat to have this monster loom up and over you well it is truly scary,” recalled Fran Coombes.

“I was scared, Jim was scared, the kids just lost it and were screaming at us to make it go away. They then started firing ropes at us this was like having fireworks shot at you, James got on the engine and used the bow thrusters to try and manoeuvre us away from the ship, we were not going to grab those lines, and there was no way we were going to come alongside, we were rolling badly, but even the 190 metre ship was rolling as she was now broadside to the waves, we would be crushed and undoubtedly all end up in the sea,” she wrote.

Dove II yacht in the Atlantic

The family were forced to abandon Dove II in the mid Atlantic. Credit: James Coombes/Facebook

Newsea Jade stayed with Dove II for 60 hours before another ship, Asia of Pearl, arrived to assist.

Again, the conditions meant that plans to fire lines to Dove II for a boat to boat transfer had to be abandoned.

Finally a Discovery 67 yacht, Tilly Mint responded to the Coombes’ plight.

Fran, Heath, Isla and Tony abandoned into a life raft leaving James on board Dove II.

“This one was a six man raft, it was tiny and you feel incredibly exposed and open to the elements, it’s sitting on a piece of plastic floating over 4000ft of sea? I got on my knees and James basically threw me Heath, he was so brave, I hadn’t witnessed him and James’s goodbye but he just sat where I told him, didn’t scream, didn’t cry, he just said “Mummy, I don’t like this”,” wrote Fran,

“Isla came down next and again she landed in my arms in the raft, she was very scared but she sat down next to Heath. I was saying things like “Its like a paddling pool!” But as I looked at their faces they were just scared and in the end I just said repeatedly “You’re fine, we’re going to be ok”

“Tony appeared in the raft and James cut us free, we were off the boat, we were in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”

Be Good Too, abandoned in 2004 off the US coast, washed up in Scotland

The crew of the Tilly Mint picked up the life raft’s line and Tony, Fran and her two children were transferred on board.

But that wasn’t the end of the family’s ordeal.

Just moments later the main sail sheet and the genoa sheet snapped on Dove II and the ropes became wrapped around the prop leaving James no options but to call for help.

“The boom was swinging dangerously around the cockpit, he put in a call to us, he was done, could we go back for him? YES! I looked at the captain, could we? He quickly turned the yacht round and we headed back for Jim, we were on our way,” wrote Fran.

“Bless him, he was a broken man, he was sat in the cockpit, the main sail was a mess where the lazy jacks were gone, the boom was swinging back and forth and there were ropes everywhere.”

“It was like the boat had totally rejected him but in a way it was saving him. He and the crew completed the transfer very quickly and that was it, we were rescued, all of us.”

The family are now safely in St Martin in the Caribbean trying to decide their next step.

Friends have launched a go find me appeal to raise £10,000 for the Coombes to help them rebuild their lives.