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Crew saved in remarkable yacht rescue

One of Australia\’s top racing yachts has been salvaged, and her skipper and crew saved, in a rescue operation in wild seas off the south Queensland coast.

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Dual Sydney to Hobart handicap winner Ausmaid rolled and was dismasted on Thursday morning after being hit by a massive wave about eight nautical miles northeast of Noosa Heads.

wner Bruce Absolon said it was only the professionalism of the crew that averted a major disaster.

Mr Absolon said the boat was sailing in very light conditions with no forecasts of heavy weather when everything suddenly changed.

“Within 10 minutes they were in three to four metre seas,” he said.

“They dropped all the sails, lashed the mainsail to the deck and were in the process of lashing the boom to the deck when one rogue wave reared up.

“According to the skipper it was between eight to 10 metres and breaking.

“They rode vertically up on that but it rolled them over,” Mr Absolon said.

Ausmaid did a full 360 degree roll under water before surfacing – without the skipper.

“The skipper was washed overboard but he was still attached to the boat by his safety harness, and the other two crew members pulled him back on board.

“It\’s due solely to the sheer professionalism and experience of the crew that there hasn\’t been a serious injury – or worse”.

The skipper was winched to safety by a rescue helicopter and taken to Nambour Hospital with suspected back injuries, but Mr Absolon said he escaped with some severe bruising and was due to be released from hospital on Thursday night.

After he was rescued the weather worsened and the helicopters were grounded.

A coast guard boat was sent to find the yacht but by then Ausmaid had drifted several kilometres in the strong current.

When it was eventually located, it was much closer to shore, and being pushed in even further by the big seas.

Despite the swell running up to five metres, the coast guard got a line on the drifting ocean racer and started towing her in to Noosa.

Then there was a break in the weather and the two crewmen were also winched onto a helicopter and flown to safety.

Mr Absolon said the boat would be anchored at Laguna Bay off Noosa overnight and he would assess the damage after it was towed into Mooloolaba in the next day or two.

“The mast is in three pieces, there appears to be damage to the steering, but the hull seems to be intact,” he said.

Ausmaid was on her way from Hamilton Island to the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club to compete in the Brisbane to Gladstone race starting on Good Friday.

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