First and foremost we owe a massive thanks to the guys from the US Coast Guard, who risked their lives to rescue us. They are among the most professional and humble people we have ever met. They are truly lifesavers.
Also, this could have turned out much worse had it not been for the way in which Race Director Chris Martin and his team aboard the support yacht Galen Diana co-ordinated efforts. It’s testament to them that despite the situation in which we found ourselves, none of us panicked.
We would also love to thank Jim, Brittany and their team at San Luis Jet Center in San Luis Obispo, who provided us with clean t-shirts, warm showers, hot coffee, blankets, clothes drying and meals.
We understand the pressures that adventurers like us put on emergency services. It is because of people like those mentioned above that those of us who row oceans, climb mountains, play rugby or do anything that puts us at risk are able to push boundaries, personal or otherwise. We will be forever in their debt.
We felt adequately prepared to be out there. Conditions of entry into the race are strict and extensive and rightly so. We were making good speed on a respectable bearing.
The boat we thought was watertight was clearly not. Within a day water was seeping through from our watermaker hatch into the main cabin. Although we could keep this at bay by temporarily using the electric bilge, it was not sustainable. Slowly the boat gained weight at the stern end and water came on the vessel quicker than we could bail it.
When the support yacht arrived at 7.45pm on Friday, June 20 our electrics failed, meaning an inability to bilge electrically, leaving us with just a hand pump. From this point what was a slowly worsening situation ballooned into a soon to become Mayday scenario. Confused seas of up to 20 feet and winds up to 30 knots quickly inundated the boat with water as we all sat on our swamped deck in orange survival suits, in total darkness, awaiting rescue. The support yacht circled us, maintaining vocal and VHF communication, to ensure we were safe and only two hours later the team from the US Coast Guard arrived in their specialized rescue helicopter.
Watching a professional rescue diver launch himself under the search lights of a helicopter into stormy seas to swim to our rescue is a sight none of us will forget. Three members of our crew were winched to safety in a designated rescue cage, including Sam, who recognized the onset of hypothermia, while skipper Fraser Hart remained on the boat with the rescue diver for an hour and a half as the helicopter refueled in San Luis Obispo. James, Sam and Colin remained at San Luis Obispo airport and Fraser was taken to Monterey. We are all alive, in good spirits and with no injuries.
We are truly gutted that we were unable to make it to Hawaii. We have been preparing for this race for 18 months, saving every last penny and spending an inordinate amount of time undertaking courses on topics such as sea survival and navigation. However, our sadness about not making it is vastly outweighed at the joy of still being alive. We are now looking at our options for entry into the 2016 event as we felt this year, with our speed and bearing in the first few days, a world record was not just a pipe dream.
Making the decision to pull the plug on an event you have worked so hard towards is never easy. In this case, it was very clear the only way we were making it home and dry was with assistance. We stand by our decision and would again like to thank everyone involved in our safe and professional rescue.
Team Pacific Rowers: Sam Collins (25), James Wight (36), Fraser Hart (34), Colin Parker (36)