Two rescued from sailboat in distress in Norfolk

The live-aboard couple of this sailboat tried to outrun the storm and got caught in the wind and high surf along the Willoughby Spit area of Norfolk, Va. (Photo: AP)

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A couple attempting to outrun Hurricane Irene were rescued Saturday in the Chesapeake Bay as their sailboat was battered by 6- to 8-foot seas and winds gusting to 45 mph, rescue officials said.

Unable to launch rescue craft, two rescue crew members swam to the sailboat, pulled the sailors off and hauled them back to shore in the Willoughby section of Norfolk near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

The couple, who did not want to be identified, were treated by medical personnel and taken to a shelter. Their cat also survived the ordeal.

The sailboat had served as their home, Capt. Mike Marsala of Norfolk Fire and Rescue said. "They were scared, but they were thankful once they got on dry land," Marsala said.

After the rescue, waves and wind pushed their sailboat to shore, where it was rocked violently by the surf. The sail appeared to have been shorn off, and only tattered remnants remained.

The two had left their mooring in Portsmouth on Friday in hopes of sailing away from the storm's path. They were destined for Annapolis, Md., Marsala said, which is about a two-day sail.

They had sailed about 15 miles until they dropped anchor, but then weather conditions worsened.

Heavy winds pushed the sailboat onto a jetty, and it began to list as gusts up to 45 mph buffeted their boat, Marsala said.

Fire department swimmers swam to the boat with a line, secured life jackets on the couple and helped them ashore. A rescue worker carried the drenched cat inside her jacket, according to The Virginian-Pilot, which witnessed the rescue.