The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the only event of its type. Anyone, even if they have never stepped on a boat before, can join the adventure and circumnavigate the world in a one year marathon.
Taking part in this year’s race as a full circumnavigator is Andrew Taylor.
Andrew is the former general manager of Wembley Stadium with Delaware North Companies (UK) and project director for the Amadeus Olympic Park North team. He has agreed to share some of his race experiences with us via EP and we will be publishing extracts from his blog and some photos from aboard his yacht during each of the race stopovers.
In his latest blog he explains the team’s progress since we last heard from Andrew in Australia. Since then he has travelled across the Pacific from Qingdao, China to foggy San Francisco, California. In a frightening turn of events during this leg of the race Andrew was thrown overboard. EP is happy to report that he is well and has shared the following update.
Early morning on the 30th March 2014, we were about to make a sail plan change. The first task was to be removing the Yankee 3 from the forestay, replacing it with a Yankee 2. Skipper Sean and I went up to the foredeck and clipped on, we set about unhanking the Yankee- Sean in the forward position on the outside of the pulpit, me assisting in the no1 position just inside. We had done this together many times before. Straight away we ran into a delay with the first of the hanks refusing to open. I said to Sean I would go back and get a hank claw tool to assist with this, which he acknowledged. I unclipped my safety line and turned to retreat from the foredeck to get the tool. Chris was right behind me and asked what we needed, I told him we needed a hank tool, ‘I’ll go dude’ he said, and he went off to get it. I clipped back on and turned around to continue working with Sean removing the head sail. It was cold and wet, the wind was up around 35kts and waves well over 6m, and we had already had a few real big soakings in the short time we had been up on the foredeck.
Almost immediately as I turned around to continue the boat lurched violently over to starboard, it bucked over a wave underneath us, there was no real warning of this just a big wave through us over to one side, then back again. In an instant I was thrown over the side and into the water. It happened so unbelievably quickly, there was no moments loss of balance to consider first, no time to think about holding on or grabbing hold onto anything, one second my feet are on the boat the next my head is in the water. I cannot believe how quickly this happened. It was a flash and instant dunking.
Chris makes his way back along the rail; all the time he is pointing he can see me in the water and has started calling distance and direction. Sean climbs back in board from out on the pulpit and makes his way super quickly back to the helm, pausing briefly to drop his head into the companion way and call “man overboard”, “all hands on deck”. At this time the wind is gusting to 50kts, with waves of 8m+ in height in places, as I drift to around 150 meters away from the boat, two really big waves pass over me, Chris drops his arms and says what nobody wants to hear “lost visual”. A couple of other crew join him on the rail and concentrate hard on the spot where visual was lost but after a few minutes of hard glare, still no sight.
Down below the crew feel surreal, we have only ever heard this called in training and during a drill, never for real. Everyone takes it seriously and jumps to it double quick time. Some crew are eating and grab wet weather gear and life jackets putting them on as they exit up onto deck. Some crew are sleeping and just grab a life jacket. Between them they start to prep for a stay sail drop and bring the main sail in square. Skipper shouts for the button to be pressed and engine started, both are well underway already. The MOB button is a marker control on our main navigation system. It marks an exact way point on the charts, and allows the boat to navigate either right back to it or around it for a controlled search pattern. Skipper swings the boat around and does an immediate fly past of the last known position down wind, then back around again further down wind. Nothing! By now a full crew are on deck, skipper calls for all eyes to sea, marks and gestures an area for the next search, everyone is glued to the spot and concentrates hard. I am wearing a bright orange Henri Lloyd dry suit, with a fluorescent yellow hood. However, even in these colours visual contact is lost at only 150 meters. Visibility is good, clear 500-1000 meters. But the white water breaking wave tops, grey skies and occasional sunshine bursts make for really difficult seas to spot anything in. Get someone up the mast skipper calls next, quickly please. Kristi jumps straight to it, she kits up and gets ready quickly, then is hoisted aloft, up to the first set of spreaders from where she can get a better 360 view of the surrounding seas. She would stay here for well over an hour, her hands are already cold and it’s really painful for her holding on as the boat sways and bucks around.
We are mid North Pacific, over 2,000 miles from land. Two mayday calls are placed, a fellow clipper competitor, OneDLL, respond to the first- they are around an hour away, they immediately cease racing and make best speed to the scene to join the search. The second mayday call falls silent response. This is not a busy sea, there is little or no commercial traffic here and with the exception of the clipper fleet it would appear we are alone for several hundred miles all around.
As I fall from the bow of the boat, I brace myself and wait for the safety line to snag tight, as I surfaced I felt a rush of water and thought this was me being dragged along by the safety line as I had expected to be. Then I saw the side of the boat rushing past in a flash of purple, I realised instantly I was away and no longer connected to the boat. Then a really massive thud hit me, it spun me around and puts me under water, it took me a few minutes to recover from this and as I surface I realise I have been hit by the rudder as the boat passed me. It hurt like hell and I thought this is very bad, I said some very bad words out loud about this! I couldn’t feel my foot at all at first and my leg hurt really badly too. I watched the boat disappearing off into the distance for a few seconds and wondered if anyone had seen me go. I heard no shouts, saw no one on the way over the side. I remember the last conversation I had with Sean was that I was going to do something else, what if he just thinks that’s where I am now! I paused for second and thought about what I needed to do next. I looked out my safety line, it was still attached to me, it was played out with the long clip in the water. When I am working on the boat, if it isn’t clipped onto the boat it’s always clipped onto me, so why had it been like this? I don’t ever leave it dragging. Had I forgotten, had I not clipped on properly? Or had it just come off something? I couldn’t work out why as I was absolutely sure I had clipped back on.
I paused again and checked myself over. Everything was ok apart from my right leg which was now just dragging in the water and hurt a lot. My suit appeared to be working really well and holding me afloat. I tried really hard not to put any strain on the cuffs or neck seals as I moved around so as not to break the seals, whenever I turned to look around I moved my shoulders and didn’t strain my neck round to maintain the neck seal, if it filled with water it would be heavy, very dangerous and I might need to ditch it, which would be incredibly difficult to do in the cold big seas. Not to mention the fact that without it I might not survive the cold for long anyway.
Next I got out my AIS beacon. I felt really content with myself, that not only had I purchased this, but I had fixed it inside my lifejacket so I had it on me at all times. It was only a couple of hundred pounds, and now it was going to be worth every single penny! I pulled out the pin and twisted the knob in the direction of the big white arrow on the side of the orange base switch. It instantly started to flash a white light. I felt really pleased it was flashing away happily. I held it above my lifejacket as best I could point upwards as it said to do on the side.
I could still see the boat clearly; I kicked my feet and arms around to maintain sight of it as best I could. Very soon there were several waves between us, so one of us was always obscured by the water, I saw the deck only very briefly once and thought if I can’t see the deck then they can’t see me. I took a bearing on the sun so I could re-find the boat when ever I lost it. All the while I was holding up my spray hood to try and make myself more visible in the water. After a good deal of time I wondered if it might be acting as a sail and drifting me further away so I stopped doing this. I could see the side of the boat which I thought was a good thing as it meant they had stopped. The side then became the back which really bothered me, your going the wrong bloody way! I thought. What I did know was that we have an awesome team and an awesome skipper and they would be doing everything they could to find me quickly.
On board skipper was still following his search pattern based on what information he had on wind, current and the way point where I had gone over. Crew were spread all around and occasionally skipper would ask for all eyes on a certain area, otherwise it was 360degree vision with no rest. Jason had already fully kitted himself out in harness and recovery kit, he was attached to halyards and waiting patiently by the mast poised and ready to be lowered into the water to recover me.
I kept the boat in sight but was really starting to get cold and tired after a while. In our training we are taught to stay still and preserve body temperature, seeing the boat however was giving me real hope and encouragement all the time and it felt important to me to stay with it. Then I saw someone up the mast, this gave me real hope, as it meant they are looking for me. Then I equally thought this is bad having someone up the mast, as it positively confirmed to me they didn’t know where I was. I was really very cold now, I was shivering uncontrollably and quite violently too. I couldn’t feel my hands, feet or face, my vision was slightly blurred and my nose really hurt of all things! I felt sick and started to worry. It wasn’t a good place to be, the boat seemed so far away, and I knew they didn’t know where I was. I felt totally helpless, I have no way of attracting attention, no way whatsoever. I remembered it was my mums birthday and thought ‘no’ ‘not today, I can’t die on mums birthday’ that would be very bad. I was going to write a blog dedicated to my mum this afternoon and had started writing it in my head about whether it was ok to miss your parents at my age or not? I thought through what I was going to write. I got really upset and started thinking about Siobhan too. I had left everything in place, my will was all sorted and she would be ok, but this was unthinkable, stop it stop it!
I saw the boat again, the sky behind it was absolutely jet black and menacing, I could see the waves breaking all around it and the massive squall rain storm hitting them. They were getting pounded by a massive squall, ‘oh please no!’ This is just going to slow them down even more already and take them longer to get to me. Then I slowly realised a real and very large fear, the storm is coming my way, oh bugger! Ok, so what do I need to do to prepare for this, I thought. I checked the tether on my AIS was secure. I double checked all the life jacket straps. Next time I looked up it had just started to rain, this quickly turned to hail stones which really hurt my hands, head and face, they were stinging cold and I really didn’t like it. I got quite upset with this and felt like I was being kicked whilst down by the storm. The sea state became rough too; waves were suddenly much bigger and starting to break. I looked towards where the boat was and just saw the biggest wave ever, a wall of water 20-30meters high, it passed and there was another one directly behind it, there were five or six of these between me and the boat, there is no way they will ever see me in this. Then I got hit in the back by the first of the big white water breakers, it hit me really hard, winded me and rolled me over several times, I finished upside down, face down and struggled to right myself, just as as I came up for air, I saw and heard the next one which was even bigger.
I pulled the spray hood down, held onto my life jacket, pinched my nose through the spray hood and took a deep breath. It rolled me over and over again, like getting wiped out in the surf and washed up onto a beach. I came up to the surface face down and struggled myself over again, took a big breath and got hit square in the face by the next one, I wasn’t ready for it and I took in a whole load of salt water, when I came up from this one I was coughing and spluttering around. I got only a few seconds to prepare for the next one, and so it continued for a while, I’m really not sure how long or how many but it was really horrible, and uncontrollable. I thought it was never going to end.
Once or twice there was a break, but I knew it wasn’t over yet, I knew the storm was still passing. The hail stones had turned to back to rain but even that still hurt, stinging cold and grinding on my skin. All the time I gripped my life jacket determined not to loose it. I was really worried about my suit leaking too. Each time I came up, I took deep breaths and shouted abuse out loud, it wasn’t going to help in any way but it made me feel better. I tried to control my breathing and stay clam, but it was difficult to do, I kept on thinking all the time, not like this, I am not going down in a storm. It was horrible during the storm it seemed to last an age and really totally wiped me out physically and mentally.
By the time the storm had subsided and calmed down I didn’t have very much strength left at all. It was all I could do to hold my head up. I tried to control my breathing but it was fast and shallow. The sea state eased and it felt calm. The waves were still 8m+ but by comparison this was calm. I straightened my life jacket and pulled the spray hood right over, I got my self into a comfortable position and rested, taking deep breaths. I was glad the storm had passed. The sun shone through the clear window on my spray hood and it felt really warm on my face, I leant my head back and enjoyed the sun for a few moments, I no longer felt cold, I had stopped shivering and felt content. I knew this was very bad, as it signified a later and now a very dangerous stage of hyperthermia to be in. I pulled the hood back and turned myself into the wind, I wanted to get cold again to stay alive. I tried to shiver, it didn’t work.
On deck Tristan, a media cameraman from the Clipper TV documentary crew who is traveling with us for just this leg from Qingdao to San Francisco, has started filming. He is moving around the deck with his heavy weatherproof camera equipment catching the best shots he can from the search operations going on around him. He wants to help in the search too, so in between shooting he is looking all around. He is torn between helping and the morality of filming someone’s misfortune, but he knows he has a job to do.
On board skipper is leaning down into the Nav station through the hatch from on deck. Conor is down below, Michelle above at the hatch; between them they agree the next search pattern to follow. Skipper slips back up onto deck. There is a ‘ping ping’ alarm sound from the chart plotter. It says ‘Emergency SART located’ with two options on the screen, ‘back’ or ‘go to’ Conor hits ‘go to’ straight away and calls out to skipper ‘got him, AIS signal, hang on a second on for course to steer’. Skipper jumps over to the helm, takes over from Chris, pushes the throttle down and calls back to Michelle ‘give me course, give me course!’ He shouts forward to the deck crew ‘we have his AIS, get yourselves ready guys’ Conor shouts up ‘086 degrees 1.5 miles, and get this skipper he’s doing 4.7 knotts!’ Skipper swings the boat around. It takes them a little over 15 minutes to get to me in the mountainous seas, and they are within 400 meters when Kristi sees me first from up the mast, then the deck spot me at around 200 meters distance.
The next thing I remember clearly was hearing voices shouting, I heard my name called. I lift up the spray hood and there was the boat bouncing up and down on the waves right next to me. My first thought was ‘jeez the boat is enormous!’ I gave a clear OK signal with my hands. I turn, wave my arms and the crew breaths a sign of relief, Jason lowers himself quickly over the side and down into the water. As he gets wet for the first time he takes a sharp intake of breath, it’s freezing and very quickly he starts to shiver, his hands hurt with the cold and are already becoming difficult to use. The swell is bouncing us off the side of the boat, it’s really hard to keep his feet on the side, the boat lifts right up out of the water and crashes back down over the waves. It takes three really difficult attempts and around 9 further minutes to get me back on board. By the time I am eventually back on board Jason needs medical care too from the cold having been in the water to recover me. I have been in the water for 1hour and 40minutes. I have a broken leg and am suffering badly from hypothermia, with a real risk and grave danger from secondary drowning having taken in so much salt water. All my gear is cut away. I am warmed slowly and kept conscious over the next 4 hours in rotation by Susie, Michelle and Wendy. They talk to me and I recount the experience, I don’t remember much of this time, just the extreme cold and the excruciating pain as I warmed back up again. Kristi and Tristan film some of this and it is really useful for me to watch back later. With hot water bottles and several dry sleeping bags, I gradually warm back up, I takes over three hours for my body temperature to stabilise. Susie, our team medic on board, does not ever leave my side for the next 48 hours, she is a legend and I owe much gratitude to her, and to all of the crew for the effort they went to during the search and rescue operations.
Over the next few days I manage to speak with my family, especially my parents and daughter, via satellite telephone and reassure them I am ok and on the mend. The media attention around the world surprises us all and becomes amazing and far reaching. I do several live interviews from the boat and film several more on board with the film crew travelling with us. I am sure when we reach San Francisco there may be more to do, so I am preparing for this too. For now however, I am assisting with the remainder of the race however I can below deck, which is all I can do until my leg is checked out properly when we land in San Francisco.
This was a majorly traumatic experience for all of the crew, not just me. I really hope it makes the team stronger and as such we can perhaps enjoy even more the remainder of the race.
Best wishes to everyone back home. Thank you so much for all the messages of support to me, the crew and my family. The recent events have been a truly humbling experience. I am looking forward to getting straight back on the race; we depart San Francisco Saturday 19th April, and race to Panama, then onto Jamaica and north to New York. I shall be updating you further from New York in early June.
Read the rest of the crew’s adventures here
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