Race to reach battered yachtie in Great Australian Bight

A tiny speck in a savage sea, the solo Bight yachtsman awaits rescue.

A tiny speck in a savage sea, the solo Bight yachtsman awaits rescue. Photo: AAP

A solo sailor has spent the night battling giant waves and severe winds in the Great Australian Bight after running into trouble hundreds of kilometres from help

Xavier Doerr, 22, was forced to trigger an emergency beacon shortly before 5pm on Friday while attempting to complete a non-stop and unassisted circumnavigation of Australia.

At the time the experienced sailor had sustained injuries and his boat was taking on water, causing him to fear for his safety, according to a social media update by support crew.

Authorities established radio and visual contact with Mr Doerr by air after picking up the distress call.

Two merchant vessels have been diverted to the 6.5-metre sailing yacht’s location about 630km west of Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and 740km southeast of Esperance in Western Australia.

Daunting operation

Winds gusting over 100km/h and six-metre waves are expected to make rescue difficult even after the vessels make contact some time on Saturday.

Aerial footage showed Mr Doerr’s stricken yacht Waterline being tossed around by large waves with its sails bundled on the deck.

He was hoping to become youngest and fastest sailor to complete the journey by finishing in under 50 days.

Embarking from Queensland’s Southport Yacht Club to complete an anti-clockwise circumnavigation, Mr Doerr had already travelled over 5200 nautical miles when he ran into trouble and had been at sea 64 days.

Support crew member, Lee Randall said they lost radio contact with Mr Doerr for an extended period on Friday afternoon.

“It’s been a hell of a 24 hours,” Mr Randall said.

“We lost communications with Xavier … and during that period of time Xavier took the decision to trigger his PLB (personal locator beacon).

Feared for his safety

“At that point in time he had sustained some injuries and there was some water ingress into the boat and he genuinely feared for his safety.

“As part of his shore team we support Xavier’s decisions but really Xavier’s decisions are his own out there.”

Two Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) challenger class rescue aircraft remained overhead throughout the night and communicated with Mr Doerr via VHF radio.

An RAAF aircraft also arrived at the vessel’s location on Saturday.

AMSA issued an emergency broadcast and diverted a bulk carrier to the area, with the vessel expected to arrive about 11.30am (AEST).

Another bulk carrier is also making its way to the location.

The ship’s masters will need to assess their ability to safely conduct a rescue in extremely rough weather conditions.

-with AAP

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