Kite-sailor calls it quits

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British adventurer Dom Mee’s attempt to become the first to sail a kite-driven boat across the North Atlantic ended with his rescue 460 miles off Newfoundland.

British adventurer Dom Mee’s attempt to become the first to sail a kite-driven boat across the North Atlantic ended with his rescue 460 miles off Newfoundland. Mee’s 14-foot sailboat capsized nine times in stormy seas before he finally called for help.

Little Murka, a Bosun Dinghy redesigned with a cabin and kite rig for the ocean crossing, failed to right itself after the ninth capsize in 55-knot winds, the remnants of Hurricane Rita. “I understand the cabin flooded at this point,” wrote project manager Adrian Webrew on Mee’s Web site, www.dommee.co.uk. “Dom escaped the water by exiting through the hatch. He was forced to clutch to the keel of the boat for some five hours.”

Mee activated his EPIRB. A big wave later righted the boat, though it remained flooded and in jeopardy until his rescue 24 hours later on Sept. 28.

Webrew, in a telephone interview, said Mee’s problems began when a line to his sea anchor parted. Without the anchor’s steadying effect — bow held into the wind — Little Murka capsized repeatedly.

Mee lost all communications. Meanwhile, conditions continued to worsen. Webrew said the Hercules rescue aircraft that found the boat reported winds of 60 to 70 knots and mountainous seas.

The container ship Berg Nord stood by until the Canadian Coast Guard ship Cygnus arrived to rescue Mee. Cygnus took Little Murka in tow, but the tow line parted in 35-knot winds. “She’s still bobbing around out there,” Webrew said. “She’s a tough old girl.”

Ex-Royal Marine Mee departed St. John’s, Newfoundland, for Exmouth, Devon, in the United Kingdom Aug. 18. He had hoped to make the passage in as little as 35 days with favorable winds. However, the exploit ended on day 39 just 460 miles from where he started. Little Murka ran into one North Atlantic storm after another, most of them the tail ends of tropical storms or hurricanes, including Katrina, Maria, Nate and Rita.

“In the six days he was actually able to fly kites, he made almost 500 miles,” Webrew said.

“It is a cruel blow,” Mee wrote on his Web site. “But I must remember that when I surfaced from the boat after I capsized I found myself in a monstrous storm. It was a miracle that I survived for 24 hours in those conditions.”

In 1995 Nicole Van de Kerchove sailed a 24-foot sailboat under kite power alone from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe in 28 days. She is credited with being the first to cross an ocean in a kite-driven boat.