'Marie Celeste' yacht adrift hundreds of miles from home

By Ross McKee
BBC News

image captionThe ship was spotted floating out of thick fog near Downings harbour in County Donegal

An Irish skipper had a "Marie Celeste moment" when he came across an unmanned yacht drifting in the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from home.

Michael McVeigh from Rossguill Charters spotted the vessel floating out of thick fog near Downings harbour in County Donegal last week.

When he sent two divers onboard they found rotting vegetables and the email address of its owner on a table.

The yacht was found to be from the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic.

Recalling the eerie experience of discovering the boat, Mr McVeigh said it was only when he was contacted by Malin Head coastguard, a number of hours later, that his initial fears of a tragedy were laid to rest.

"If you find a boat floating at sea, you always think the worst," he said.

"You always think there is going to be a dead body on board, someone has fallen off and they have died, some poor person is going to be told a loved one is dead.

"It is never good to find a boat floating unmanned at sea.

"I called Malin Head coastguard, they were at an incident working around Portrush (in Northern Ireland). "They said they were busy and would get back to me.

"I took the yacht in tow and headed towards Mulroy Bay.

"It took me a few hours, it was fairly late before we got back in.

"The coastguard came back to me when things had quietened down and they said a lone sailor had been rescued by Falmouth Coastguard probably about 600 miles west of Galway."

image captionThe yacht was on a journey to Iceland from the Azores when the sailor was rescued

It transpires that the lone sailor had been heading to Iceland from the Azores as part of a "dream trip" when he got into difficulty.

Although he was eventually rescued, his yacht was left to drift rudderless to distant shores.

"Dino is from one of the Azorean islands right in the middle of the Atlantic probably halfway between Portugal and America," Mr McVeigh added.

"He works in the Department of Agriculture there, but he decided that as a lifelong dream he was going to go on a yacht journey from the Azores to Iceland and then to the Faroe Islands and back to the Azores.

"He was on his passage to Iceland in heavy weather and the rudder broke off and he lost his rudder.

"He spent a day trying to rig up some sort of system to try to get him some sort of rudder.

"He couldn't get it and called the coastguard on the satellite telephone.

"The coastguard then arranged a German freighter that was in the area to pick him up off his yacht and drop him in Philadelphia."

Using the email address that was found on the yacht, Mr McVeigh was able to contact the sailor who has since been reunited with his vessel.

It remains to be seen whether a trip to Downings will be on his next "dream holiday" schedule.