The Cruising Club of America has selected Maurice and Sophie Conti to receive its 2009 Rod Stephens Trophy for their rescue of the crew of the 10m ketch Timella on October 12, 2008. The trophy will be presented to the Contis on March 5, 2010 by CCA Commodore Sheila McCurdy (Middletown, R.I.) during the club’s annual Awards Dinner at the New York Yacht Club, in New York.
The Contis and their two small children were aboard their Catana 471 cruising catamaran Ocealys about 60 miles from Suva, Fiji, when near midnight they heard a mayday call on their VHF radio. Some 12 nautical miles away, the ketch Timella had struck a submerged reef and had begun taking on water. The yacht’s three crew, New Zealander Ali Timms and Australians Cameron Slagle and Liz Schoch, needed urgent help.
By radio Maurice contacted Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand and the New Zealand High Commission in Suva about rescue options. There were few options; search and rescue vessels were many hours away. Then another radio call came from the stricken yacht, “We’ve gone down mateâ€¦.We are getting in the dinghy.” Ocealys responded, “Roger that Timellaâ€¦ We are coming to you.”
On board Ocealys, the Contis begin heading to Timella’s last given position, braving rough seas and strong winds. Just as the sun was coming up they reach the reef. Ocealys circled the reef looking for signs of life. They decided to circle again and saw something in the middle of the reef despite the heavy swell. It was the partially sunken dinghy.
Maurice, a trained rescue diver, donned a wet suit and with a radio, flares and other equipment, managed to launch the dinghy in rough seas with Sophie’s help. He found a relatively calm spot to cross the coral on the outer reef. Inside the lagoon he spotted the wreck of the ketch and her haggard crew hanging on to their partly deflated dinghy. He got them aboard in less than two minutes, and to ease the tension he said “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Maurice and I will be rescuing you today.”
Sophie was able to hold Ocealys in position in the swells, and the exhausted crew were able to get aboard. From there they were taken to Robinson Crusoe Island Resort a few hours away.
The New Zealand High Commission recommended Maurice and Sophie Conti for heroism awards and in November 2009, they traveled to London to receive the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea.