Schooner’s crew feared they would be wrecked

5 October 2008 – CREW members on the Swedish vessel Alva feared they were about to run aground on Sunday, until it was towed to safety by the St Peter Port lifeboat.

And it only emerged yesterday that before the Guernsey authorities came to its rescue in the early hours of Sunday morning, the 44-metre three-masted maritime school for Swedish teenagers had been in difficulties since about 4am on Saturday.

The Alva’s captain, Mattias Nyman, 62, hailed the skill and bravery of the six-man crew on relief lifeboat Roger and Joy Freeman, for their response. ‘They did an excellent job. What they did, they did perfectly and I was very impressed with their work.’

‘My biggest fear was that we would run aground somewhere because I couldn’t steer her anymore.’

The Alva was en route from Gosport to Vigo, Spain, with 11 crew and 29 students aged 16 and 17.

All came through the experience unhurt and ordinary crewman Hannah Wretmark, 26, said all aboard were happy that they were now able to rest in St Peter Port for a short while.

‘I’m very happy to be here. The Guernsey crew did an excellent job and I’m very thankful. It was a great feeling when they turned up and we saw them working so hard to get us a tow.

‘It was one of the longest days of my life and one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had on a boat.

‘All I could think about was how we would get all the students off the boat and into life rafts in time before the ship ran aground and got smashed up on the rocks.’

The weekend’s drama began about 45 miles to the west of Guernsey in the early hours of Saturday morning when the Alva had some netting caught around its rudder and propeller, which severely affected its ability to manoeuvre.

At that stage, the French authorities were informed and advised the boat to divert to St Malo.

But at 7.10pm that day, about seven miles east of Les Roches Douvres, with deteriorating weather and strengthening tide, the Alva was unable to make her course and was steadily drifting towards the Minquiers reef.

It was then that Mr Nyman requested a tow for her from the French, who liaised with Jersey Radio.

At about 9pm, the Jersey lifeboat, Alexander Coutanche, arrived on the scene along with the Duke of Normandy tug.
But after a series of unsuccessful attempts at passing a tow from the tug, the two Jersey boats had to return to St Helier to replace a crewman who had injured his back.

By this time the French boat Abeille Liberte had arrived on scene and it was decided that it would attempt to escort the Alva up the coast to Cherbourg.

However, luckily for those aboard the Alva, the Guernsey authorities who had been monitoring the situation at St Peter Port Radio, had already taken the decision to launch the St Peter Port lifeboat to ensure adequate rescue cover in the event that conditions got worse, which indeed they did.

The Guernsey crew caught up with the Alva at about 2am in force-eight winds, with forecasts for the wind to strengthen considerably. By 2.50am it had established a tow.

Second coxswain, Vince Helmot, said because of the conditions the crew had to establish the tow the old-fashioned way.

He praised the boating skills of coxswain Buz White for getting close enough.

‘It was only because of Buz’s boating skills in very difficult conditions that we were able to put a heaving line across to her the old-fashioned way. We had forecasts saying the winds would be getting up to 60 knots imminently and if it had been on those tides for another two or three hours it would have taken her right in among the islands.’

The Alva is scheduled to leave St Peter Port this afternoon, but that is dependent on how long it takes to repair the ship’s damaged watermaker.

By Simon Tostevin, courtesy of