Tragic battle to save sailing companion

Mrs. Jones

Charles Gallagher's yacht, Mrs Jones, pictured in 2007.

A tragedy on the high sea can happen very quickly, as experienced sailor Jo Ivory found when her friend Charlie Gallagher was washed overboard. It highlights the need to be prepared for any situation.

A Blenheim woman struggled for more than 40 minutes to get her sailing companion back on his yacht but still couldn't save him. Jo Ivory dropped the sails in rough weather, started the motor and managed to keep sailing buddy Charlie Gallagher in sight. She turned the boat in high seas off the notorious Cape Jackson and managed to get a line to him. She encouraged him and tried to help him back on board, but none of it worked.

He died in the rescue helicopter on the way to Wellington Hospital. Gallagher wasn't wearing a lifejacket that day.

Ivory is an advocate for lifejackets, takes the safety precautions necessary, but says in this case it wouldn't have saved him. Looking back, the one thing they needed was a ladder on the back of his beloved 11-metre racing yacht Mrs Jones. Ivory says she was convinced the helicopter have arrived in time to save him; he was still alive when he was winched on to a helicopter.

So she was shocked when she learned her 52-year-old friend had died that day, September 21. "It was a horrific thing," said Ivory, who has been sailing for more than 30 years. "It's the worst thing that can happen to any sailor."

The pair had planned on competing in the two-handed race round the North Island in February and had sailed together twice before they set off to deliver Mrs Jones from Nelson to Picton. It was pouring rain and the wind was up as they approached Cape Jackson, at the northern entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound.

Gallagher had been resting in his bunk but emerged from the cabin and had just sat down in the cockpit when a wave slammed into the side and threw him into the water. "I got a rope to him and got him back to the boat," Ivory said. "I honestly thought it would be easy - I could help him and he could help himself."

She thought she had everything under control; it was taking all her experience, but they were OK.

Gallagher was exhausted, though. He could get his hand on the stanchion - the uprights around the deck that support a side rails - but he couldn't pull himself up the smooth, curved side of the yacht.

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