It happened just a couple of months ago in the seas off the coast of Mexico – and now the story can be told. There was a boat sailing to England and in the boat were two men, one an experienced sailor, the other a novice. It should have been a fairly uneventful voyage (apart from the fact that the Novice is a martyr to seasickness.) Don’t ask me anything technical like how big the yacht was – but what I do know is that it was between the coast of Mexico and that long spit of land dripping down which is called Baja California – a distance of about 200 miles – that disaster struck.
About 100 miles off shore they ran into a storm. That would have been OK but it soon transpired that one of the bilges was rusting and letting in water, causing the boat to list (whether to port or starboard I don’t know; possibly both). Anyway, as fast as they pumped water out it flooded in again (all this time the Novice was being sick) and there came a point where it was clear that they would have to abandon ship. With great presence of mind they gathered together passports, money, credit cards and supplies and put them in a waterproof bag before sending out a distress call to the coastguard (or what passes for a coastguard in those parts). Then they launched the lifeboat. This should have been quite straightforward: it’s one of those blow-up lifeboats which inflates as you fling it at the water; unfortunately having inflated to full strength it had a wobble on the journey and landed upside down, making it quite good as a shelter but not much cop as a lifeboat. Help! A vomiting Novice is called from below deck to lash the Old Hand to the yacht so that the Old Hand can lean forward to try and grab the lifeboat and flip it the right way up; all this in a heavy and unceasing swell. When the lifeboat is finally righted they grab their stuff, say a last farewell to the yacht and disembark. They barely see their beloved boat slip beneath the waves…
Time goes by. They make a call on their satellite phone to update folks at home. Then the long night begins.
It was a long wait. I guess the sailors, being practical, down-to-earth sort of folk, didn’t spend much time in panicking. Luckily they weren’t too far (in nautical terms) from the shore: if it’d happened in the middle of the Atlantic god only knows how it would have ended. Finally the call came at 6 am to say that they were safe and on board a Navy vessel. Unfortunately, as we afterwards discovered, the vessel shortly afterwards ran out of fuel and had to be refuelled by another Navy vessel which was called out for the purpose. Pausing only to run out of fuel once more (WTF?) they made it to dry land and to the blessed surroundings of a hotel bedroom.
There is no coastguard in those parts – but here we have the RNLI, run by volunteers who leap out of their bed at a moment’s notice and take to the frozen waters in order to rescue those in peril on the seas. The RNLI rely on donations and in an act of gratitude both sister and brother-in-law have had their heads shaved, not as a mark of penitence but as a dramatic event to raise money. The scalping happened in the local pub and you can read about it here:
And if you’d like to donate, here’s the justgiving page: