Yacht thief jailed after rescue operation in Moray Firth
A man with no sailing experience who stole a yacht - and then had to be rescued during a storm - has been jailed for 19 months.
Cathal Matthew, 29, sailed 50 miles out to sea after stealing the £6,000 boat from Portknockie Harbour in Moray.
But he had to be rescued when he became stranded in a gale force 8 storm in the Moray Firth.
After drifting near an oil rig, Matthew managed to grab the attention of a ship captain who took him on board.
He was sentenced at Elgin Sheriff Court having previously admitted stealing the Tradewind vessel and a car and driving while disqualified.
Fiscal depute Kevin Corrins said Matthew, described as being a prisoner at Inverness, stole a £17,000 Audi S5 after taking it for a test drive.
On 14 November he left the Inverurie area and drove around Aberdeenshire before heading to Portknockie in Moray where he dumped the car.
Matthew, who was previously banned from driving for life in 2007, then took the yacht and set out to sea.
The captain of a standby vessel later spotted that he was in difficulty about 35 miles east of Wick - near an oil rig.
Mr Corrins said: "He becomes aware that a flare had been set off from a small yacht.
"He does note the yacht is about 700 metres from the installation that he has been tasked to watch and effectively watched the yacht for a while.
"He then shines a search light on to the yacht and the accused can be seen standing on the stern frantically waving towards them.
"He did appear in distress and they launched a fast rescue craft to assist the accused."
When the crew reached the yacht, Matthew told them he was not injured but wanted to get off the boat.
He eventually admitted stealing the vessel and its owners were contacted by the Portknockie Harbour master.
He was kept on the standby vessel for two days until a passing ship could take him back to shore.
Mr Corrins added: "As for the Tradewind it was subsequently washed up on the island of Auskerry east of Orkney and it was in quite a bad state of repair.
"It has since been recovered but is no longer seaworthy."
Defence lawyer Robert Cruickshank said his client had acted in an impulsive manner and put this down to it being a coping mechanism "arising out of stress".
Sheriff Chris Dickson told Matthew he had committed "extremely serious" charges and jailed him for a total of 19 months and 20 days.
After the hearing, yacht owner Euan Paterson, 41, said he had bought the boat from the widow of one of his friends who had died of cancer.
He said: "No compensation? There should be something, that's pretty poor.
"We worked hard to pay for it. All our savings ended up going into getting it back to sea and he steals it.
"It's a real disappointment."