Nova Scotia·Updated

Sailors rescued off Sable Island

Three European sailors have been rescued off Nova Scotia's Sable Island.
The sailors thank the search and rescue team that answered their mayday off Sable Island. (CBC)
Three European sailors are back on land and thanking their Canadian rescuers.

The two men and one woman were caught in a nasty storm Monday night, with high winds and severe swell, about 100 kilometres south of Sable Island.

A search and rescue team from Canadian Forces Base Greenwood was dispatched early Tuesday morning after the sailors sent out a mayday. The team managed to hoist the three onto a Cormorant helicopter.

One of the sailors, Hanna Berke, said the wind and waves were so high that the 14.6 metre, two-masted ketch actually rolled over.

Hannah Berke, one of the sailors rescued, said the boat had been waiting out Hurricane Maria in Port Hawkesbury, only to run into rough weather Monday night. (CBC)
Berke, a Dutch citizen, joined the vessel in Port Hawkesbury where her fellow sailors had been waiting out Hurricane Maria. The sailors left Saturday, with a plan to sail onto the Azores and then Belgium.

Berke said the rough weather began on their third night out. She steered, while Wilfrid Praet, the owner of the boat, scrambled to save the spare sails and other equipment on deck.

"It was like a hurricane, the seas came from everywhere, everywhere huge waves, so couldn't steer really the boat at the end, so decided to go down, batten down and let it ride," said Berke. She said that's when the boat rolled.

"Huge waves and it turned over ... it righted itself again, we found ourselves right next to each other, all tumbled down, so that's why we have some bruises, but nothing broken. And then the mast snapped in three pieces," said Berke.

It was a few hours later that a Hercules aircraft spotted them and the Cormorant dispatched.

Captain Phil Lawson said the rescue was a challenge.

"It's very dangerous for [search and rescue technicians] to go down in that kind of situation. There's definitely a hazard there because of debris, the mast and other rigging, but we were fortunate we got in and out quickly and everyone was safe," said Lawson.

After arriving back on land, the three sailors were cold and wet, but relieved to be alive. They were checked out by medical staff at Halifax Stanfield International Airport and were said to be doing well following their ordeal.

They're calling their Canadian rescuers 'heroes.'

The transatlantic sailors will rest up and then fly back to Europe, taking the story of their incredible adventure with them.