3rd September 1983

Jersey lifeboat rescues a French yacht

Three crew members on the French yacht Cythara found themselves in difficulty when struck by a double tragedy in the dead of night. Not only did the outboard engine develop a fault; she also damaged her sails and, as a result, she was driven among the rocks off St Clements Bay in a gale, with waves reaching 20 feet.

Award for bravery

The seas were so rough and the rocks so treacherous that the lifeboat coxswain, Michael Berry, later received a Silver Medal (Second-Service Clasp) in recognition of his courage. The lifeboat itself was damaged and was out of action until early the following year.

The Journal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution gave a full account of the rescue in its Winter 1983/84  edition, describing how the prevailing conditions made it impossible to consult any chart and that although the radar was working, it was not showing the rocks. The lifeboat first struck one of the rocks almost as soon as it had taken aboard the yacht’s crew of two men and one woman, and soon after struck bottom, at which point her propellers came out of the water and it took considerable manoeuvring to free her. Once in deeper water, although still among the rocks, Berry dropped anchor so they could sit out the rest of the night and wait for sunrise. Fortunately, while stationary, Berry managed to plot a safe course back to St Helier, where they arrived shortly after 5am.

A broken boat

As Berry described it in an interview with the Journal’s winter 1984/85 issue, the Cythara crew had “blown their canvas out; they’d come from the French coast and they’d tried to get in from one port to another. The weather had broken on them, they couldn’t get in to the port they wanted to get into. The next thing, all their canvas blew away and they were twelve hours adrift, so by the time we got to them they hadn’t a clue to where they were.… they were, well, what we call ‘up the gutters’…  they had no radio. I don’t think they even had a liferaft.”

The rescue was depicted in an oil painting by Gerald Palmer, now owned by the RNLI station on Jersey, which was later used as the basis of a 20 1/2p stamp released by Jersey Post Office in 1984.


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