THE FAMILIES of the British yachtsmen on the Cheeki Rafiki thanked the men's would-be rescuers today as they endure the “unimaginable pain” of their loss.

Hopes of finding the four men, who were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, faded on Friday after the capsized vessel was found with its life raft still on board.

The heartbreaking discovery led to the US Coast Guard calling off its search for Hampshire's James Male and his three crew mates, experienced captain Andrew Bridge Steve Warren and Paul Goslin.

The families issued a statement through the Foreign Office which said Friday's news “brought us unimaginable pain, leaving us each and all utterly disconsolate”.

They added: “Nonetheless, we take some small solace that this conclusive development allowed us to gain an element of closure. We know that they will be forever remembered based upon the flood of touching responses received already.

“The UK Foreign office has been relentless, professional and hugely sympathetic in its support throughout and we thank them unreservedly. “Naturally we'd like to thank the US Coast Guard, along with some UK and Canadian support: they said they were searching like it was one of their own family, and we couldn't have asked for more.

“We are well aware that the men and women of the US Coast Guard who tirelessly participated in the search, plus those on private yachts and merchant vessels, bore terrible weather conditions and not inconsiderable personal risk to find our loved ones: we are humbled and offer our eternal gratitude.”

The families said they would like to offer special praise for the continual backing of the British media in championing their cause and for the dignified and respectful tone of journalism set.

And they added: “Last but not least, we would like to say how indebted we are to the public for its overwhelming and unprecedented support.

“In the end our petition gained 240,000 signatures, that is equivalent to a city the size of Southampton. This has helped quell our distress somewhat, but in particular Paul, Steve, James and Andrew would have been enormously touched to have known that they were in the minds of so many people.

“It would have brought them great comfort in their moment of need and could, just could, have made a vital difference in saving their lives had the circumstances only been different.

“All the same we now respectfully ask that the media allow us to grieve in total privacy. Shortly we will make the subsequent necessary arrangements in private, and in time will return to our everyday lives as private individuals. We have no more to say publicly on this very saddest of events and most sorrowful of weeks.”

The men were on board the 40ft yacht when it is thought to have run into trouble around 620 miles east of Cape Cod on May 15 as it was sailing back to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.

The US Coast Guard resumed its search for the men last Tuesday, having previously suspended it after scouring 4,000 square miles of the Atlantic, following a UK petition signed by 200,000 people and pressure from the British Government.