A COUPLE tucked up in their County Durham bed came to the rescue of a pair of amateur sailors facing death on the high seas more than 1,000 miles away.

As John and Margaret Moore snoozed in their Chester-le-Street home, friends Jill and Robert Watson were battling for their lives as their £80,000 yacht was pounded by waves whipped up by a Mediterranean storm.

Grabbing her mobile phone, desperate Jill phoned her friend Margaret who, despite answering the phone bleary-eyed at 5am, managed to alert the Humber Coastguard.

In turn, they contacted the coastguard in Rome, who scrambled an Italian lifeboat crew that eventually rescued the stricken pair and returned them to dry land.

Margaret, a 47-year-old secretary who lives with her husband in Crichton Avenue, said: "I knew there was something wrong as soon as I heard Jill's voice at that unearthly hour. When I heard the boat was going down it was very worrying."

She said her own experience of boats told her to ask for the boat's coordinates - and that the British coastguard could help.

"I was so relieved when Rob called to say they were safe."

The Watsons, from Hexham, Northumberland, who run child day centres, bought the yacht a week before and collected it from San Raphael in France, intending to sail to Malta for Christmas. The boat's engine and steering failed in a storm, their VHF radio broke down, and they did not spot distress flares.