THE CREW of a Hampshire tall ship have saved the lives of seven French sailors in a dramatic sea rescue in the Atlantic.

The Southampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust's Tenacious went to the aid of the stranded crew of Zouk after stormy conditions damaged the 43ft yacht.

Tenacious's crew, which had 12 people with physical disabilities, including three in wheelchairs, out of a total of 36, then had to sink the damaged yacht as rough seas stopped them from towing it back to the mainland.

Dramatic The dramatic rescue occurred 900 miles from the Caribbean as Tenacious was on a 30-day transatlantic voyage from Gran Canaria to Antigua.

Many crew members had paid or were sponsored to take part in a tall ship adventure on the high seas, as part of the charity's work. At the helm of the ship was Captain Barbara Campbell.

Jubilee Sailing Trust spokesman Alistair Thompson said: "It's an incredible achievement.

"It's not everyday you get to take part in a sea rescue and to do so well in such terrible conditions is amazing and a credit to the crew."

The ship received a distress call from the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre - MRCC - Fort de France in Martinique, who had picked up the emergency call from the French yacht and sent out a message to the nearest vessel.

Despite the raging seas and strong winds, two of the Tenacious crew, second engineer Steve Garrett and second mate Steve Higgs used a rigid inflatable boat to join the distressed French crewmen, who had been adrift for six days after the craft lost its rudder.

Mr Thompson added: "Despite repeated attempts made by the crew on board Tenacious to tow the French vessel into Antigua, appalling weather conditions meant that Captain Barbara Campbell in consultation with the skipper of the Zouk was forced to abandon any attempt to save the yacht as it could not be towed safely.

"Rather than allow the stricken yacht to become a hazard to other vessels, Tenacious was forced to give her a nudge and help her roll over so she would sink."

The 43ft Sun Odyssey French-registered yacht was owned by the Glenans Association - one of France's biggest sailing schools.

"The crew of Zouk are now on board Tenacious where they are being looked after. The cook's homemade ginger cake is going down particularly well," Mr Thompson added.

Praised Amanda Butcher, chief executive of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, praised the crew of Tenacious.

"I am delighted that the crew of Tenacious responded so quickly to this call for assistance," she said.

"The safety of those sailing was the primary concern to both crews and this is why the decision was taken to transfer the crew off the Zouk and to sink her."

"I am extremely proud of everyone who took part in this rescue. They demonstrated their professionalism and expertise and are a credit to the Jubilee Sailing Trust and our work."

With both crews now on board after Saturday's rescue, Tenacious is back on course to arrive in Antigua on December 22.