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Superyacht delivery tests captain and crew

Engine trouble amid a Red Sea storm lands vessel in a Middle Eastern military zone

Engine trouble amid a Red Sea storm lands vessel in a Middle Eastern military zone

The International Superyacht Society, at its annual awards gala held this year at the Miami International Boat Show (Feb. 16 to 20), presented its Distinguished Crew Award to the skipper and crew of a 155-foot Trinity motoryacht who, members say, displayed “exceptional professionalism and efficiency under extraordinary circumstances.”

Capt. Sandra Yawn and the crew of the White Star “endured a harrowing series of events” while delivering the boat to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in November 2004, Gary Groenewold, vice president of award sponsor Westrec Marinas southern region, said during the ceremony.

The award, in its fifth year, is presented to a captain and crew who exemplify expertise and professionalism in the super and megayacht industry, the society says.

“When I heard [Groenewold] tell the story, it really sank in and impacted me,” says Yawn, who is 41, and spoke with Soundings from Spain. “When you’re living it you just do what you have to do. The crew was magnificent. Hearing it, though, realizing that that’s what we went through, shook me up a little bit.”

As Yawn and her crew pushed White Star through the Suez canal and into the Red Sea, a storm kicked up, the boat’s hydraulics failed and one of the engines failed, Groenewold explained. Yawn decided to steer the boat toward an island off Yemen, near Saudi Arabia. They apparently pulled into a military zone because they found themselves surrounded by Yemeni gunboats.

“Needless to say, on a multimillion-dollar yacht, they kind of stood out,” Groenewold said.

“We didn’t know we were heading into a military zone,” explains Yawn, who is from Fort Lauderdale. “Once we realized it, all the women on board, myself included, went down below and didn’t show our faces. Mark Wood, one of our security officers, acted as captain and dealt with the Arabs. It was a strange experience.”

Five days later, the boat’s engineer had fixed the engine and the crew set off again for Dubai, Groenewold explained. Less than an hour later the second engineer noticed flames coming from the exhaust when a fireball ripped through the engine room. Within minutes the experienced crew was able to extinguish the fire, although the engine room was destroyed.

Yawn kept her cool, Groenewold said, and contacted the crew of a passing U.S. Navy warship for help. The Navy ship steamed to where White Star was left drifting, boarded the ship and towed it ashore for repairs.

“They say you are only as good as the people under you,” Groenewold said. “The crew on this vessel report that the captain remained cool and collected throughout their ordeal and never panicked. The leadership exuded by the captain reverberated through the crew and provided quiet confidence in their professionalism as a team, and courage under fire during their hellacious series of events.”

During the ceremony members also presented the society’s first Presidents Award to Jane Buffington, of Fraser Yachts, for her “exceptional service to the society and to the yacht industry.”