To find the rare images used in the advertisement for Rutgerson’s Multihull Escape Hatch we had to go 25 years back in time to the South Pacific and the Queen’ Birthday Storm in 1994. A dreadful storm that caused what is believed to be New Zealand’s largest marine rescue operation. Seven yachts were abandoned, twenty people rescued, and one yacht lost with all three crew members.
On 28th of May 1994 a fleet of about 35 boats left Auckland to set sail for Tonga. Winds were from the southwest and the forecast for the next few days was excellent. With a thousand miles to go, most boats expected to be at sea for at least a week; a time during which the weather could change significantly.
Warnings of the approaching low started arriving on 2nd and 3rd of June but since it was expanding and moving faster than the boats could travel, there was little anyone could do to avoid it. At 00:00 UT on 4th June the Marine Rescue Centre in New Zealand received the first emergency signals.
One of the boats was the Australian 38ft catamaran Ramtha crewed by Bill and Robyn Forbes. Their mainsail had blown out, and a large wave had destroyed their steering. With no means of control the boat pitched and rolled heavily in the high seas. They were in no immediate emergency, but by chance received a VHF radio call from HMNZS Monowai after a strange light was observed in the night sky by the ship’s lookouts. Due to the high risk of capsize they decided to ask for help.
The 3500 ton New Zealand Navy survey vessel HMNZS Monowai, on route between Raoul Island and Tonga, was asked to divert to the south to help out. With 10-meter waves, heavy rain squalls, winds around 55 knots gusting to 70 and occasionally more this was clearly a very difficult operation. Coming along side was not an option as the navy vessel would risk crushing the catamaran in the high seas.
Eventually, the chosen plan was to approach as close as possible, and with the aid of gun lines establish a connection through which a stronger line could be passed. Wearing wet suits, life jackets and safety harnesses, the crew of catamaran Ramtha would then be drawn through the water and hauled aboard.
In practice, close manoeuvring proved extremely difficult. Several shots were needed to establish a connection. As things worked out just as Robyn and Bill Forbes clipped on the harnesses, the vessels rolled apart and they were jerked off their feet into the sea. Fortunately, no injuries occurred, and the crew was hauled safely aboard the ship.
On the bridge of the naval vessel HMNZS Monowai that day was one of the ship’s Hydrographic Surveyors Lindsay Turvey who took these rare images of Ramtha, and kindly allowed us to share them with you all.
Catamaran Ramtha seen from HMNZS Monowai. Photographer: Lindsay Turvey
Catamaran Ramtha was found afloat a couple of weeks later. Catamarans rarely capsize, but if they do, an escape hatch mounted on the side of each hull can save the crew from getting trapped onboard.