The trainees praised their skipper and emergency services last night for saving their lives just moments before the stricken Astrid sank close to the mouth of Kinsale Harbour in Co Cork just after midday yesterday.
Christopher Hopcraft, 17, from Co Cork, who was on his first voyage at sea, said it hasn’t put him off sailing.
“It was a good experience actually — I’d do it again tomorrow. The guys on the lifeboat were very professional and the crew of the ship were very helpful,” he said.
Rose Lynch, 17, from Co Wexford, who has been sailing for almost 10 years, said nobody panicked.
The Astrid skipper, Pieter de Kam, and his six crew, had them ready for rescue, and the RNLI crews were on the scene within minutes, she said.
Mr de Kam, who runs sail training courses on board the 95-year-old Dutch ship, also thanked all the agencies involved and said if it wasn’t for their swift response, lives could have been lost off.
“What was on my mind was saving my people on board and I saved them all,” he said.
His 42m vessel sailed from Oysterhaven and was due to lead a Gathering flotilla of about 15 yachts, which had left Dublin last Saturday, into Kinsale for celebrations.
There were 30 people on board — the skipper, six Belgian crew, and 23 teenage trainees — eight from Ireland, and the rest from Britain, the Netherlands, and Spain.
The vessel lost engine power at about 11.50am close to the Sovereign islands and was driven on to coastal rocks near the eastern side of the entrance to Oysterhaven.
A massive rescue operation was launched involving RNLI crews from Kinsale, Courtmacsherry, Ballycotton, and Crosshaven, and the Shannon-based coastguard helicopter.
Several local boats also responded as yachts in the flotilla stood by.
Five ambulances rushed to Cork Airport to meet any casualties that may have arrived there by air and a full medical team arrived in Kinsale.
The Courtmacsherry and Kinsale RNLI crews braved a heavy swell to take some crew off the sinking vessel, while others were transferred to Astrid’s life raft as the vessel began to list.
The Kinsale lifeboat saved 18 people and transferred them to the Courtmacsherry lifeboat. They then towed to safety the life raft with 12 crew in it, before they were transferred to a local boat.
All were brought ashore at Kinsale suffering from shock and mild hypothermia. They underwent a full medical check at Kinsale Yacht Club and no injuries were reported.
Sail Training Ireland and the yacht club are now making arrangements to get the international trainees home.
There were emotional scenes as some were reunited with their parents.
Rose’s mother, Mary O’Driscoll, said: “I did trust that I’d see her again. The reunion was just wonderful.”
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has launched an investigation and will liaise with Dutch authorities.
The wreck’s bow is lying on rocks and its stern is just below the water. Its four-course sail is on the surface of the ocean. Divers are due to examine the wreck this morning and may attempt to seal the hull.