Yacht salvage set to begin

A salvage operation to retrieve a sunken yacht from the bottom of Lake Aviemore, in North Otago, is due to start over the coming days, after sonar equipment located the craft beneath the 25sq km lake surface.

A 5.5m Careel boat with two men on board went down in 40-knot winds during the Aviemore Classic yacht race on Sunday, and event convener Laurence Smith said now that echo location equipment and divers had found the boat 70m underwater, a barge would have to be brought in from Oamaru to raise the wreck.

Mr Smith said the boat would have to be raised to a ''reasonable'' depth before divers could remove the mast and engine to enable it to be brought to shore where it could then be pumped out.

The salvage operation was expected to start shortly, dependent on weather, and would take a ''few days'' to complete, he said.

He added that once the yacht was salvaged, race organisers and Maritime New Zealand would conduct a full investigation into the incident.

''It was in a yacht race that we had and the weather deteriorated about half way through the race. In fact, they had just decided to pull out and were in the process of reducing the sail when they were hit by a fairly strong gust that heeled the yacht over and allowed water to enter the cockpit.''

He added that five rescue craft had been on the water as part of the race's safety plan, which had then been activated to get the two yachtsmen to safety.

''It was noted that the yacht was by itself, and the rescue crew went to investigate, and luckily got the two out of the water, before the boat went down around them.''

He said the water temperature had been about 8degC at the time, but the added wind-chill factor would have caused ''considerable problems'' for the sailors, if they had spent much longer in the water.

The Australian-made craft was one of the smaller boats involved in the regatta, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Mr Smith said the high winds had caused ''numerous problems'' for many of the 92 yachts that took part.

''There were a couple of broken masts, a few rudder problems and a few blown-out sails, but you get that with any strong wind.''

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz

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