By Humphrey Carter
M AJORCA BASED British yacht skipper, Captain Robin Ballard, admitted yesterday that he and his crew were lucky to be alive after being caught in Sunday's seaquake off the coast of Thailand onboard the Palma-based luxury yacht Lady Ecosse.

Yesterday, the Bulletin managed to get through to the yacht, now moored off the East coast of Phuket, and talk to Captain Ballard.
What happened to them on Sunday sounds more like a script for the Perfect Storm II but there was no George Clooney at the helm, just Captain Ballard and his heroic Palma crew.

Bollard explained to the Bulletin that the Lady Ecosse was at anchor in 25 foot of water in Patong Bay, Phukets's most popular tourist beaches when all of a sudden the seaquake started. “It was a normal Sunday, very tranquil in the Bay, people started to appear on the beach and then suddenly at 10am, all of the water drained out of the bay, it was literally as if someone had pulled the plug. “My first concern was for the crew and the yacht. “Luckily everyone was on board and I took the decision to get out of the Bay and head for the safety of deeper water where we wouldn't get smashed against the coast. “From then on, although it all happened in a matter of seconds, it was like everything was in slow motion and at one point, the water was so low, we thought we were going to hit the bottom and then roll over. “Had that happened and a wave hit us side on, we'd have been finished,” Captain Bollard said yesterday. “We ditched the anchor and just as we started the engines, the first wave hit the boat and crashed over the deck. “It was not that large, but it was not a good sign and it took our tenders, which were still in the water with it, as it headed for the beach, the swimmers and sunbathers. “As we manoeuvred to start heading out of the Bay and open water, we were faced by this huge wall of water building up and heading into the Bay. “By this time the first wave had devastated the beach front and we had no choice but to head for the wall of water and try to sail up and over it before it reached breaking point and started breaking into the giant tsunamis. “Fortunately we managed to beat the waves and get out of the Bay just in time with the killer waves braking in our wake. “There was a giant swell, but at least we were out of the path of the tsunamis,” Captain Bollard told the Bulletin yesterday.
He said that the whole phenomenon lasted about 20 minutes and then all went calm. “It was difficult to say how large the waves were, the first one which hit us was not that dangerous, but what followed, well you have seen it on the television and in the papers, Patong beach and the resort have been completley devastated,” he said.

Bollard admits that, at the time, neither he nor the crew really thought about what was happening and the serious threat they faced. “We all just switched to automatic, we all knew what we had to do and got on with it, however, once the extent of the death and destruction became apparent and the more we see on the news, we realise just how lucky we were.” Once the sea had calmed, he said that they patrolled the area in case there were any other vessels or swimmers in danger but found none. “Fortunately, I guess, it happened at 10am on a Sunday when most people are only just starting to head to the beach, had it happened at mid-day....” “I have been in this business now for 30 years, I've been with the yacht 27 and have sailed through hurricanes etc, but in most cases, the weather services give you a good warning, no one knew this was going to happen,” he said.

The Lady Ecosse was yesterday moored off the East coast of Phuket were services are operating pretty much as normal. “The emergency operation appears to be pretty well organised and we, along with other yachts, are getting regular calls from the emergency service sin search of blood donars,” he said. “We are not too sure what we're going to do next. We had three charters booked and were not expecting to return home to Palma until March, now we'll wait and see what the owners of the yacht say,” Captain Bollard said yesterday as the massive emergency aid operation continued to gather momentum around them. “We're still coming to terms with what happened here,” he added.

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