A WOMAN has told how she feared she was going to die when a severe storm battered the yacht she and other novice sailors had paid to take a trip on.
Julie Denaro, of Middle Mead, Hook, spoke to The Gazette about the effect the traumatic incident has had on her life following a court case in which the owner of a sailing school and the skipper on board the yacht were both cleared of negligence in relation to the incident.
Julie was one of seven people, including the skipper and a member of the crew, on board race cruiser Liquid Vortex on Monday, January 2, when a violent storm hit, lasting throughout the night.
The yacht, which Julie and four other novice sailors had paid £225 each to take a trip on, was battered by winds of up to 55mph and tossed about in 20-foot high waves The yacht was heading from Southampton to the London Boat Show but became stricken off the coast of Dungeness, Kent.
Julie said: “I was sure I was going to die. It was the longest night of my life. Strangely, I was completely calm because I thought we were too far away from the coast to be rescued. There was no doubt in my mind we were going to die. I thought about my daughters and how they would cope.”
The group were eventually rescued by a helicopter and two RNLI lifeboats in the morning, on January 3, after a mayday message was sent out.
Julie, a kitchen designer, said: “It was hard to believe when I saw the lifeboat. I was completely in shock.”
Since the incident, she has struggled with memories of that night, suffering frequent flashbacks and finding it difficult to move on with her life.
She said: “I was just in shock for months afterwards. Even the shape of dark trees in the night outside my window would remind me of the dark waves against the night sky.”
The mum-of-two had to relive the ordeal at the Southampton Crown Court trial, which finished on Tuesday, in which the skipper of the boat and the director of the sailing firm faced charges relating to the incident.
She said: “I had been trying to block that night out of my mind, but I think it is better to talk about it. I think talking about what happened helps me to come to terms with it.”
The court heard how the crew of rookie sailors were sent out despite forecasts of force 10 gales.
Jurors cleared skipper Charles Sturrock, 50, from Much Wenlock, Shropshire, of failing to make a sufficient passage plan, but they failed to reach a verdict on a charge of whether he failed to properly assess the risk of the voyage.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has 14 days, as of November 6, to decide whether it wants a retrial on that charge.
Jason Manning, 36, of Pluto Road, Eastleigh, who is a director of Hot Liquid Sailing Club Ltd, was found not guilty of breaching the Merchant Shipping Act.
Both Mr Manning and Mr Sturrock, who had denied all the charges they faced, were cleared of two further charges each relating to the incident after Judge Peter Ralls ruled there was insufficient evidence.