Force 10 in the Biscay - Rolled 360
Five days into a passage towards Madeira aboard their 42ft ketch, Neil, Mandy and their cousin Deni were forced by foul weather to turn back for the south coast of Ireland.
It was October 1998. Neil & Mandy had set off with a good three day forecast, but on the forth day experienced 50 and 60 knots of wind across the Biscay.
Reports of storm force 10 were coming through on the shipping forecast and the sky had mares tails like strewn all across the sky proving this forecast was going to be nasty. We were running out of wind, then becalmed. We lashed everything on deck down. Both booms were dropped on deck to reduce windage, we filled our cockpit with sail bags to fill up the hole, put in the wash boards and waited.
After bring becalmed for a few hours the wind suddenly gusted and within 30 minutes it was raging at 50 knots, within two hours 70 knots. The anometer recorded gusting up to 96.
They sat in the storm for twenty-four hours playing drafts, doing plots every 20 minutes and listened to loud music (Sheryl Crow - "I just wanna have fun") to drown out the noise. Occasionally Dolphins were heard through the hull around the boat.
At 17.15 on the 24th October, there was a tremendous bang, we all rose to find Supertaff had been rolled 360 degrees and had lost the windows the starboard side and the boat was full of water to knee level and both masts were bent round the hull. There was chaos inside, all the floor boards had fallen out, a crate of wine was sitting on the cooker, from its storage place in the bilge. We set off our 121 EPIRB, which later had been heard, but was deemed to be a false alarm as no one would be out in that weather. (Now Supertaff carries a 406 EPIRB)
Mandy had been hurled across the cabin and for a brief moment thought she was way underwater, swimming up towards light until she felt air on her face, then she could breath again. (It was really only up to 3 feet deep in the cabin, but felt like forever).
There was a nasty gash on their cousins face, and the boat was now swinging wildly without the masts to stabilise her. All aerials were down under water on the top of the masts.
The liferaft had inflated itself during the capsize had was flying like a kite, Neil went on deck and used al his strength to haul it down and retied it to the boat just in case we needed to abandon ship.
At around 19.00 we spotted a light on the horizon, we released a red flare, only to find this was a star and the seas were pretty high. The main ships batteries surprisingly were still working and we had a light on in the cabin.
We were keeping a lookout for shipping as we would now be difficult to spot, white hull, low free board and lots of breaking waves. We spotted another light on the horizon, this time it was a ship. We got another flare ready and when Supertaff was perched on top of a large crest, we set the flare off, followed by another flare. We then hailed the ship on our hand held VHF.
Mayday, Mayday, Mayday
This is sailing yacht Supertaff, Supertaff, Supertaff
We have three people onboard .....
The ship responded. She was heading south and was making heavy weather against the seas. She was a 6,000 ton gas supply ship, called Cervantes. She relayed our Mayday to Cork Radio, who called the lifeboat and air sea rescue.
Since we were not sinking we felt it would be dangerous to abandon Supertaff, so Cervantes stood by us, sheltering us from the wind. For two hours she stood by us and only then when we saw her in the water did we realise how rough it actually was. Cervantes was now moving closer, they decided to take us off our boat, grab nets were made ready and she came so close that she she scraped her way down Supertaffs hull her crew were shouting jump!, with her top sides rising and falling over 40 feet. Neil was on the VHF and said we were not going to risk getting off the boat. She opened up her throttle moved away which sent Supertaff swinging wildly from side to side. Her props were sometimes out of the water just 2 meters away from us. She took up her station again to windward.
That episode left every one feeling fairly shaken, it felt more life threating than the roll over itself!
The RNLI Courtmacsherry life boat arrived about an hour later along with the helicopter. The airsea rescue came from Shannon and reported that the swell was between 8 and 11 meters, plus the wind speed was 70 knots. They said it was too dangerous in such a big sea that they would leave the rescue to the lifeboat.
The flood lit lights from the helicopter lit up the black night night showing a white streamed boiling sea. It was too dangerous to place any of the crew on our boat, so they motored up to us from downwind and from about 15 feet away rocketed us a heaving line which we attached to our liferaft. It all went likek clickwork like it was a calm day.
Mandy followed by Deni got into the liferaft, Neil last minute decided to place washboards in to keep the water out, the lifeboat crew were shouting at Neil to get into the liferaft. Neil then jumped into the lifereaft, untied from Supertaff and watched her as we moved towards the lifeboat. We were plucked out of the sea and placed in chairs in the cabin of the lifeboat.
Lots of smiling faces, Dan O' Dwyer the coxswain, Colin Bateman, Michael Cox, Micheal O' Donovan, Alan Locke, Pat Lawton and Brian O' Donovan to have us safely onboard. We went at 25 knots for 2 hours back to Courtmacsherry, then on to Cork University hospital.
Supertaff was salvaged by local fishermen and it took six weeks to get the vessel back. (That's another story)
Neil says "I must praise the lifeboat men in the highest degree for their professionalism and certainly the way they calmly looked after us in which was a really awful situation."
CourtMacsherry lifeboat crew later received a bronze Medal award for the rescue. Congratulations to the team and thank you.