THE family of a Hampshire sailor missing in the Atlantic were this afternoon heartened after hearing weather reports from a boat crew at the centre of the international mission to find him.

James Male from Romsey is among the four crewmen missing from the stricken Cheeky Rafiki which capsized off the coast of USA.

The US Coast Guard is overseeing a massive air and sea search of the ocean 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

This afternoon one of the private vessels involved in the hunt emailed back the 23-year-old's family in Romsey telling them sea and weather conditions were favourable as they started today's operation.

It follows the RAF supporting the operation by sending one of its C130 Hercules planes to join the mission.

The plane set off from RAF Brize Norton at 5am this morning on its way to Lajes in Portugal, where it will be refuelled.

Earlier the captain of the yacht ARC Europe Malisi wrote to the family hoping that calmer weather conditions would aid their search.

Mr Male's father Graham said: “They are saying that the weather couldn't be better for the search.

“It's so nice to hear that information from someone that is there.

“It's getting our hopes up and there's a lot of emotion, but we've got to keep a lid on it.”

Girlfriend Adele Miller said: “It's brilliant news, “It's about perfect and hopefully it means that the search is going to be successful.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and that it can keep going for as long as it needs to.”

James and his crew members - experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset - have been missing since their 40ft yacht ran into difficulties about 620 miles east of Cape Cod on Thursday while returning to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.

Contact with the vessel was lost in the early hours of Friday when they diverted to the Azores.

The US Coastguard initially called off its search for the missing men on Sunday after spending two days hunting for the capsized vessel.

But it decided to recommence its efforts after pressure from the UK government, the families of the crew, figures from across the world of sailing and an online petition that attracted more than 200,000 signatures.

The US Coast Guard said four vessels, two US aircraft and a Canadian military plane, were involved in searching an area.

On Saturday, a cargo vessel which was helping with the search spotted and photographed an overturned hull which matched the description of the Cheeki Rafiki but reported no signs of people on board or a life raft.

Daily Echo:

Photo of an upturned hull taken by container ship Maersk Kure

Yesterday the sailors' families travelled to London to meet foreign minister Hugh Robertson and to the US embassy and spoke of their delight that US authorities had agreed to continue the search.

Cressida Goslin, Mr Goslin's wife, said the families had been through an ''emotional rollercoaster'' since Friday.

Some 4,000 square miles were previously scanned for the vessel's two personal location GPS beacons until no more transmissions were received from the small devices, which have a short battery life.