Tuesday 17th: ‘The Rescue’

EPIRB (emergency beacon) activated, para anchor deployed, within 20 minutes we were in touch with Falmouth coast guard asking us to call them. We duly did and requested assistance. It was then over to the professionals to see how quickly someone could reach us so, via the Spanish coast guard, a 45,000 ton bulk carrier turned around to make the 2 hour diversion south to rescue us.

We are utterly indebted to the crew of the carrier, her Captain Norwaldo A. Raynes, and hugely generous crew, and to ‘K Line’ her owner. It was never going to be an easy exercise to rescue 2 people from a 24 foot boat up against a huge tanker. It required skill, but without doubt was the most scary experience of our lives.

Picture this huge vessel, 170 meters long, able to run us over like a fly hitting a windscreen, and yet it had to park next to us, against the wind and get lines attached to our boat before we could climb the 30 feet to safety. The situation was made more difficult by sea swell and, once the lines had been attached, the constant battering of our small boat against the huge vessel was terrifying – capsize and injury constantly in our minds.

Ed, situated at the bow of our boat, grabbed to first line thrown to us which came anywhere near, and under pressure, as quickly as possible, secured it to the boat. A second line followed, which Ed again secured, but it then snapped under huge pressure as our boat dropped off waves and constantly smashed against the larger ship. Finally we managed to get a third line attached, and then focused our attention on trying to climb the ladder to get off.
On a very rocky boat, we needed to time our exit to the ladder as Breakthrough was at the top of a wave, and then could drop away quickly taking us clear of her deck. She would then come back up on the next wave with the danger of perhaps smashing us off the ladder, so climbing quickly was essential.

Ed, in a good position, was the first to grab the ladder and instantly seemed to disappear from sight, with huge relief, but also anxiety for Nick. Could he time the transition successfully as well? After scrambling to the front of the boat to replicate Ed’s position, the ladder was in sight. A couple of minutes later Nick made his first attempt, leaving the boat but getting tangled in one of the lines securing Breakthrough. Quickly he was ripped from the ladder, and fell back into the water, under Breakthrough, but now in shock and getting exhausted. All Nick could hear was Ed’s screams to ‘get back in the boat’, which he was able to grab and drag himself aboard again.
Second attempt, and this time, Nick was on the ladder gripping on for life, but still in danger of being hit by Breakthrough as she rose on the swell. Again, all Nick could hear was Ed shouting ‘just *’ing climb Nick, you gotta keep climbing’. Two minutes later and we were both safe; exhausted, emotional, but safe.

That was all 24 hours ago and since then we have had time to reflect. In the next couple of days we will update you on our experiences and hopefully give you some pictures. We are due to arrive in Gibralter at the weekend, and from there home to the UK. It will be an emotional reunion, and we think difficult to adjust and reflect on what may have been. At least we have some time now to help us do that.

Our thoughts are with our remaining rowers to stay safe. May conditions improve to give you all the best possible chance of getting across.