British yachtsmen: 'We're a bit overweight because they fed us so much'

An en suite bathroom, 24-hour room service... freed sailors relive their experiences in Iranian custody
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The Independent Online

Five British yachtsmen detained in Iran described yesterday how they were blindfolded and ordered ashore by troops of the Revolutionary Guard, as they returned to Dubai last night following intensive diplomatic efforts to secure their release.

The sailors looked happy and relaxed as they stepped on to a pontoon in the Gulf state where they were met by the British consul general. Dressed in matching race team uniforms they put their arms round each other and posed for photographers before being led away to a hotel to clean up, eat and speak to relatives before reliving their experience at a news conference.

The yacht's skipper, Oliver Smith, said it was not clear from their charts that they had sailed into Iranian waters.

Mr Smith, 31, said the group were initially told they would be held for only a few hours. They were later asked to hand over their papers, laptops and mobile phones and told to spend the night on their yacht with Iranian officials on a patrol boat nearby.

In the morning the group were told to take their yacht into the dock. Mr Smith said the rest of the crew were blindfolded when they were led into the base, where they were held in a "perfectly reasonable room" which he thought was one of the base's mess quarters.

He was the only one of the group who was not blindfolded after they were stopped because he was required to steer the boat. "We had no intention of upsetting anyone. We were just trying to get here [Dubai] to start a yacht race," he said. Mr Smith added: "The guys on the ground treated us very well."

The crew said they had not been allowed to leave the room where they were being held without being accompanied by a guard but were taken to make checks on their yacht.

They were given the use of a chess board and darts and were sometimes allowed outside during the evenings.

The guards also left the door open as they ate meals to let fresh air into their room, they said.

Families and friends paid tribute to the men's resilience and spoke of a deep sense of relief that the negotiations had paid dividends and that they had not fallen victim to the wider political problems between Iran and the West. David Bloomer, a radio presenter in Bahrain, who was aboard the vessel when it was seized by an Iranian patrol boat, said they were now looking forward to "bacon and egg" and "a beer". He said the final night in captivity had been particularly testing as hopes of freedom began to build. But they remained painfully aware that other Westerners had been treated harshly after being caught straying into Iranian waters.

Mr Bloomer, who was wearing a scarf given him by one of his captors, said the five had been well treated throughout their ordeal and were told that they could continue their journey after being brought breakfast by their guards. But though they were well fed they remained under enormous psychological pressure. "It wasn't pleasant when you are not in charge of your own destiny. Your mind starts playing all sorts of tricks," said Mr Bloomer, who is in his sixties.

It emerged their vessel, Kingdom of Bahrain, had changed course when the wind dropped shortly before dawn to avoid sensitive oil platforms – a move which led them into the disputed area which they insisted was not marked as restricted on nautical charts.

The men had their stories and papers checked and they were told they could spend the night on their own boat. But hopes that their detention would be short lived were dashed when it became clear authorities higher up the command chain were not satisfied. The following morning their eyes were covered and they were taken to the island of Sirri for further questioning.

"There were five of us in one room," said Mr Bloomer. "It might not seem the ideal but we had an en suite bathroom and were fed very well. They kept asking if we wanted anything more. If anything, we may be a bit overweight because they were feeding us so much." Back in London the relatives of Oliver Smith, 31, Oliver Young, 21, Sam Usher, 26, and Luke Porter, 21, spoke of their jubilation at a news conference outside the Foreign Office. Charles Porter said his son was "exhausted but elated". He said: "His first words to his mum were 'Mum, I'm out. We've had a bit of trouble but I'm okay', as if it was a bad rugby game he had been through, rather than a pretty hideous experience," he said.

Oliver Smith's father, Edwin, said it had been hard not knowing whether their ordeal would last "a week, three weeks or a month". Susan Young said it had not been clear whether the men knew that their families had been informed of their whereabouts.