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Sailors rescued from sinking ship

The two-man crew of the Gazelle have thanked RNLI for a recent rescue from their sinking boat. At 8:15pm on a one sunny evening, RNLI Ilfracombe launched both lifeboats to go to the aid of a 32ft cruiser, the Gazelle, which was reported as taking in water near Hangman Point.



Paul Hadfield, owner of the Gazelle, is a very experienced sailor who already has had a 50+ year career on boats. He regularly brings the Gazelle over to Ilfracombe from his home in South Wales. “It’s the pasties,” that bring him here, he explains. “You can’t get anything like them in Swansea. We’d been in Ilfracombe for the day and I’d got nine pasties for colleagues back home”.


“It was a bit snotty as it is around there but we weren’t horsing it, just easing round to the quieter waters. Then a wave hit us and there was pretty sick swell so I think that is what did it – the wave popped out the saloon window and rushed in and the volume of water already on the foredeck from the swell also swamped us and suddenly we had water up to our knees in the saloon”.


They set the bilge pumps going to get rid of the water and tried to ease the boat very slowly south-west to get away from Hangman and back towards Ilfracombe but they were taking on far more water then than they could pump out. “I could see those nine pasties were already floating”, he remembers. “And we knew that trying anything more was just going to cause personal risk to ourselves. It wasn’t worth trying anything more. I knew this wasn't going to end well like it does in the movies.”


After the Coastguard received Paul’s call for assistance, they tasked the lifeboat crews who quickly found the Gazelle. They took Paul and his colleague straight off the boat and then attached ropes to begin to tow it back to Ilfracombe Harbour.


Sadly, after a short time, the boat began to sink. Paul, sitting inside the lifeboat at the time, remembers “I heard the engines of the lifeboat ease back and I thought ‘that’s it, she’s on her way’”.


Since the sinking, the Gazelle has been breaking up with various pieces of debris having already been retrieved by the lifeboat including the Gazelle’s wheelhouse roof.


Stuart Carpenter, Coxswain on the all-weather lifeboat that day, said "The two men were absolutely right to call for help: they were in an extremely precarious situation with the boat taking on so much water so quickly. Our first priority is always to rescue people before vessels and we are very pleased we were able to do that on this occasion. As we found out, the Gazelle had only minutes before sinking - if her crew had not been so cautious and called the Coastguard when they did, they could have been in the water with their boat."


The Gazelle was a former race cruiser built more than 50 years ago in 1972. Paul and his family feel the loss of her greatly. “She’d had a complete refurb just before Covid,” he says “and so she had another 50 years in her I’m sure.”


Paul described the sinking as 'a day I will never forget'. All is not lost, however, he already has plans to visit Ilfracombe again to buy some more pasties.


Gudrun Limbrick, 2023.

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