Battered by 25ft waves, a terrified British couple and their pet Jack Russell clung for hours to a life raft after their yacht sank.
Leonard and Lisa Rorke are lucky to be alive after finding themselves stranded in the open ocean during a storm, 900 miles off Bermuda.They were eventually rescued after a passing tanker answered their distress call.
‘We really did not think we were going to live,’ said Mr Rorke, 55.
‘It is nothing short of a miracle that we are still here and have survived. We were clinging on for life when we were found.’
The Rorkes, crew member Henri Worthalter, 29, and their terrier Dexter were forced to abandon their 49ft yacht Blue Pearl on Thursday night after she began to sink following two days of severe storms in the Atlantic.
The group, who had planned to take three weeks to sail across the ocean from the Caribbean, leapt into an inflatable life raft.
‘We had to jump and hold on for dear life,’ said Mr Rorke. ‘We left with nothing, but we are just grateful to be alive.’
The couple, from Oundle in Northamptonshire, were able to activate an electronic radio beacon in the life raft that allowed the US coastguard to direct ships towards them.
A British-registered tanker called the Tilda Kosan was among three vessels that answered the distress call.
The 351ft ship, which was on its way to Mexico with a cargo of gas, was 36 miles from the Rorkes when it began the search.
Despite the atrocious conditions and pitch darkness, the captain managed to locate the life raft. Due to its size, the tanker had to make three passes before it could manoeuvre alongside.
Mr Rorke, a computer technician, said the rescue was the finest piece of seamanship he had ever seen.
‘I cannot find words to adequately describe how skilful the captain was in getting alongside us,’ he said. ‘We were being tossed around in the life raft and literally clinging on for our lives.’
The group were hoisted aboard the tanker in the early hours of Friday. It is due to drop them off in Bermuda today before continuing on its journey.
The rescue effort began after Mr Rorke and his 50-year-old wife sent out a mayday signal when they realised they were sinking after the bulkhead broke up and the yacht began taking in water.
The US coastguard was notified by the International Rescue Centre after a message came in saying that people were in a life raft and needed help.
Mr Rorke praised the speed with which the coastguard reacted, saying that the radio beacon on the raft lasts only for about 48 hours.
Search and rescue controller James Hines of the 5th District Command Centre in Portsmouth, Virginia, said: ‘The presence and proper activation of the emergency position indicating radio beacon was instrumental in saving the crew members.’
Neighbours of the Rorkes, who have two daughters, said the couple had discussed the dangers of bad weather before they left their £300,000 detached home to start the trip.
Richard Morley, 63, who lives on their street, said: ‘We talked about how the middle of the ocean was probably the best place to be if there was a hurricane or anything.
‘We were just saying how you would rather be there than in the harbour with boats and everything flying everywhere.
‘I am glad they are OK – they are a nice couple.’