Star forced to jump from blazing boat

A GROUP of friends including Suffolk-based comedian Griff Rhys Jones had to jump into shark-infested waters as their blazing holiday yacht threatened to explode.

A FRIEND of Suffolk-based comedian Griff Rhys Jones has told how they jumped into shark-infested waters as their blazing yacht threatened to explode.

Peter Wilson, boss of Norwich's Theatre Royal, relived the moments when their dream holiday turned into a real-life nightmare.

Mr Rhys Jones and his wife Jo - who have a home near Holbrook - were part of a group that included Mr Wilson and 12 other friends.

The drama occurred when the party's holiday yacht, the Parranda, burst into flames off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, near South America.

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The group had to swim through plumes of thick, acrid smoke as the boat and all their possessions went up in flames.

“It all happened very quickly,” said Mr Wilson. “People were separated and Griff was at the bow and Jo was at the stern.

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“It could have been unbelievably bad. We were frightened when we thought about what had happened, and what could have been, and I have still got the wobbles from time to time.”

Mr Wilson, who went to university with Mr Rhys Jones, was woken by the crew and jumped in the sea without a lifejacket when fire took hold in the engine room, forcing them to abandon ship.

“We'd had three days of a fantastic holiday, it had been absolutely brilliant looking at all the wildlife,” he said.

“We had just anchored off the island of Bartolome and gone to bed at about 9.30pm and at 11pm there was a bang on the door and someone shouting 'fire, get on deck'. So we just pulled on whatever clothes we could grab and when we got on deck there was a lot of thick dark smoke.

“About five minutes later the crew shouted 'jump'. It was very dark but we could just make out a small boat about 300 yards away, a mooring buoy and we had the light cast from the flames. The boat was full of flammable liquid. There is the fuel for the engine itself, but also petrol for the outboard motors which could have exploded at any point.”

Although the water was very calm and the group did not feel in immediate danger, the fire rapidly got out of control.

Mr Wilson said: “Although there may have been sharks around, they were Hammerheads not Great Whites. People go to the Galapagos to swim with them.

“I swam to the nearest buoy and then to the boat, but if it had happened when we travelling in the middle of the Pacific two hours earlier it would have been extremely terrifying.”

The Parranda sunk the following morning, by which time the group were on their way to Quito in Ecuador, without any ID and many with no money. They eventually got home three days after their ordeal last Monday .

Mr Wilson said Mr Rhys Jones was working on a book on his laptop which was lost, although he has backed up on his computer at home.

Rhys Jones is a keen sailor and owns a 45ft yacht named Undina.

The 55-year-old has starred in two BBC documentaries with Rory McGrath and Mock The Week host Dara O'Briain based on Three Men in a Boat.

A week on the elegant and spacious motor yacht Parranda would have cost $65,000, roughly �48,000, which included a crew of seven-plus a naturalist guide.

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