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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Skipper 'thought it was all over'
Coastguard rescue pictures
The men were rescued by a coastguard helicopter
A skipper has told how he feared for his life after a record-breaking vessel "exploded" in the North Atlantic.

Alan Priddy and his three crew members were winched to safety by a coastguard helicopter after the Spirit of Cardiff began to sink 200 miles from Stornoway.

The 51-year-old skipper said the first indication that something was wrong came when the front of the 33ft rigid inflatable powerboat exploded.

"There was a moment when I thought it was all over," he said.

Two crew members were washed out of their bunks and forced to go into survival mode "in an instant".

Alan Priddy
I think the boat's unsalvageable - it's suffered severe structural damage
Alan Priddy
The skipper said: "We were flying one minute and under water the next. It happened in a split second.

"I've been in situations similar to this before, but in the correct clothing at the correct time.

"Although we had the correct clothing, we were wet before we got into it and, although the boat's technically sophisticated, whatever happened, it took out all the electrics."

Mr Priddy said some "particularly big waves" had been building up and that he had wondered when the boat was going to go over.

However, he said he had known it was just "a matter of time" before the rescue services arrived.

The distress signal from the powerboat, which was en route from Belfast to Iceland, was picked up at about 2000 BST on Monday.

The coastguard rescue helicopter "Mike Uniform" was scrambled along with a Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss in the north east of Scotland.

Satellite phone

The four men, who were dressed in survival suits and prepared to take to the water if necessary, were winched to safety by the helicopter crew on Tuesday morning.

Rescuers took several hours to reach the vessel after communicating via a satellite phone link.

The Spirit of Cardiff was only just afloat when those on board were picked up. The men were flown to Stornoway, where they were recovering in a local hotel.

Mr Priddy and crew members Kevin Luter, 41, and Paul Webb, 51, are from Portsmouth, while co-skipper Egbert Waters is from Newfoundland in Canada.

The Spirit of Cardiff pictured in 2002
The Spirit of Cardiff pictured in 2002
The 56-year-old Canadian said he had been glad to have an "absolutely marvellous" skipper like Mr Priddy.

"He went back into the water himself to get the emergency kit and pulled the crew through," he said.

Mr Waters said the thought of his two children had helped him through the ordeal.

"My wife passed away in April and I have two daughters, one who's 21 and one who's six-and-a-half," he explained.

"All I could think about was them, going through losing two parents in four months.

"That was what jolted me into reality and got me to react and try to act calmly and keep my energy to work with everyone and try to survive."

Although no-one wants to go through something like that, in many ways it was a textbook operation
Mike Mulford
RAF spokesman
Mike Mulford, an RAF spokesman, said the crew had been well organised despite the danger their boat could sink at any moment.

He said: "They had all the equipment they needed, they had a beacon, they knew where they were and had communications.

"Although no-one wants to go through something like that, in many ways it was a textbook operation."

Mr Priddy said the Spirit of Cardiff was a 39-time world record holder which had been around the world and crossed every ocean.

Last year it made the fastest Atlantic crossing by inflatable rigid boat.

He said: "Part of me wants to see it again, assess the damage and see what happened.

'We'll be back'

"But it was such a dramatic and catastrophic fault, I would rather not see it at the moment.

"I think the boat's unsalvageable - it's suffered severe structural damage."

He said the crew had been lucky - but stressed that the ordeal would not stop them sailing again.

"It will teach us - we'll learn something from it," he said, promising to be back in the water soon.

Mr Waters said he would join his skipper again "without any hesitation whatsoever".


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