A good days sailing today, still a sizeable swell and winds between 20-30 knots. We listened to lots of music today, we’re all so excited to be so close now to land, to food, and to not rolling anymore. We looked up anchorages and marinas in Barbados and worked out where we were going to stay, we are all looking forward to Christmas with friends, beers and surf in oistins. I am also gasping for a shower, to wash and detangle the single dread that my hair has become, Isla’s is very impressive as well. We had some dinner at 5, put the kids to bed as the sun disappeared and then it all went wrong.
Now I am writing this from 3 days ahead but trust me when I say I remember every single second.
At 6.30 on the 15th day of our crossing our rudder completely disintegrated and we were left with no steering. The boat made a crunching noise, not loud and swung up into wind, Jim who was at the wheels first thought was that we had lost the autopilot, however after grabbing the wheel and finding no resistance suspected the rudder. He ran up on deck, removed the spinnaker pole and we pulled in the genoa. He then scared me to death as he grabbed his diving torch and mask and literally jumped off the back of the boat, I just stood there watching and when I looked at Tony his face reflected my look of complete horror. Jim reappeared after what felt like forever but was probably seconds or at the most minutes, the results were not good, he climbed back on board and announced that the stock was still in place but we had lost all of the fibreglass, basically we had the skeleton of a rudder.
This was not a good situation to be in, in fact it was everything I feared happening to us. The good news at this point, because when it goes wrong you’ve got to find some good, were that because the stock was still in place we weren’t taking on water, also the children though aware of what had happened were unconcerned and quickly fell asleep. I was in a very dark place, we were side on (broad side) to the wind, which becomes very loud and very there when your not going with it but also to the swell, so we were rolling badly with the boat being knocked down with each set that came through, it was terrifying, after an hour I said to Jim that I wanted to phone for help. I used the satellite phone and pressed the button that Jim had programmed in to call Falmouth coastguard. They answered and I explained who we were, where we were and what had happened, they immediately took over the situation coordinating with Fort de France in Martinique. They rang every half hour on the sat phone to make sure we were ok, that the situation hadn’t changed etc I spoke to these guys a lot over the next few days and they were always really calming, really understanding and a great comfort. Within 4 hours we had a merchant vessel Newseas Jade in sight, lit up like a Christmas tree it was wonderful to see her heading towards us. In these 4 hours I tried not to throw up, or panic or cry. James was incredible and didn’t stop once, he built a makeshift rudder using the spinnaker pole and some timber planks that we used to hold the diesel cans to the guard rails. We tried this with the engine but the sea conditions were just too much and it kept getting thrown around even though it was tied down, in the end it became more of a hazard and it just wasn’t working. We received a call on the vhf from Newseas Jade the captain was going to bring the boat alongside ours using some thrown lines and we would do a boat to boat transfer of myself, Tony and the children. James had decided to stay with the boat and as heartbreaking as this was I understood and at this time didn’t feel he was in any danger. I woke the children and put their life jackets on, I took them up to the cockpit and explained what we were about to do. They were awesome and incredibly brave, James explained how to climb the ladder up the side of a vessel, (use the rope not the rungs as you can squash your fingers) but then the children realised he wasn’t coming and that broke them, Heath just begging to stay with James and I was going to have to make them leave their daddy. Newseas Jade prepared to come alongside, now it’s 2 in the morning, there is no moon, it’s basically pitch black and as they approached we realised the size of the vessel and what we were about to attempt. Newseas Jade is bulk carrier cargo ship, she is 190 meters long and over 30 meters wide, she is massive and in the dark, in a rolly sizeable sea, with no control of your own 16 meter boat to have this monster loom up and over you well it is truly scary. I was scared, Jim was scared the kids just lost it and were screaming at us to make it go away. They then started firing ropes at us this was like having fireworks shot at you, James got on the engine and used the bow thrusters (sideways engines) to try and manoeuvre us away from the ship , we were not going to grab those lines, and there was no way we were going to come alongside, we were rolling badly but even the 190 metre ship was rolling as she was now broadside to the waves, we would be crushed and undoubtedly all end up in the sea. This plan was way too dangerous we needed another plan, Newseas Jade suggested attaching lines to us and then pulling us alongside and out the water and as much as I wanted to get on this boat and trust me it was with all my heart there was just no way I was putting my 7 year old daughter into the sea, in the dark to be pulled alongside a cargo vessel, to then climb a ladder, NO. Another plan was to use a life raft, again be pulled alongside and then climb the ladder, again the conditions wouldn’t allow us to do this, it was just too risky. Coming alongside was the captains favourite plan and he tried, we went through the same terrifying ordeal 5 times. 5 times, by the end Tony was shouting down the vhf to stop, I was begging the coastguard on the sat phone to make them stop, the children were screaming and Jim was moving us as best he could with the bow thrusters away from the ship. It was an incredibly scary time but they finally understood and moved away. My god, just breathe. Now I must mention how skilled this captain was, yes it was terrifying for us but he never hit us and the skill it must have taken to manoeuvre a 190meter vessel so that it was meters from us is pretty amazing, they were just trying to help, they never left us and stayed with us for the next 60 hours even though it was Christmas, they were obviously losing loads of money in diesel and time and they would send reassuring messages over the vhf that they were watching over us, saying we were not alone and how at night him and his crew were keeping a close eye on us.
So this had all happened, we had lost control of our boat, made one rudder which hadn’t worked been circled 5 times by an enormous cargo ship, firing lines to try to transfer us. We had thought we were going together be rescued but it was cruel, it was right there, you just couldn’t reach it. That was a painful moment. I put the kids back to bed, but James , Tony and myself stayed up all night trying different ideas out. James didn’t stop once and proceeded to build a second rudder, he used the support pole for the radar and some floorboards, he hammered the base 90degrees creating a u in which he screwed and glued the floorboards. This rudder was awesome, solid, but once again when we tried it , it was just too small and had no effect in the conditions that we were in. At this point you could see all the disappointment on James, as much as he was trying, everything was failing and it was starting to beat him. I spent the night basically on the phone to the coastguard, they rand every half hour and I would give our position and update them on all we were trying, they would offer suggestions but we’re basically doing welfare calls, are you safe? Are you looking after yourselves? We were trying.