It has not been easy to gather my feelings and put pen to paper and tell of the tragedy that happened whilst we attempted to break the world record for the Fastest Row across the Atlantic.
If my original plan had worked I would not have become involved with the record attempt. Needing some help to get the The Khaggavisanna home for major repairs I had rang Simon knowing he was about to haul empty trailers back to the UK. Unknown to me one of his team had dropped out of his record attempt at the last minute. How could I refuse when he asked me to take his place?
I knew it would be tough rowing 12 hours a day in 4, 2.5 and 1 hours sessions, fortunately Simon was well aware of the stresses and strains the body must take especially a 68 year old one. The longest period was during the night so that off duty crew could sleep. A 3 minute break every hour taken separately gave us a chance to eat, drink and go to the toilet (on a bucket at the rowing station) or use a pee bottle, not to mention washing etc.
Our main meals were taken after we came of watch, freeze dried with boiling water added plus a day pack of chocolate bars, small bags of sweets, jelly babies and pork scratchings etc.
After 3 days half of my watch were having to row with bare backsides due to sea water boils, a very painful condition. Dolores my cabin partner and myself were able to escape this affliction.
By the 18th day at sea our bodies were becoming used to the sea conditions, sleeping on a thin matt and being rolled about. Dolores slept in the coffin birth which is about 20 inches wide and 6.5ft long down the center of the boat forming a human keel.
On February 14th as the wind had been strong for many days we were on course to break the record, but little did we know that night would bring many horrors. At 6.30pm our watch took over rowing, which was very difficult as the wind had risen to 35knts, then continued to 40knts and more. Rowing had become impossible as the wind tried to blow the oars straight out of our hands. Holding them hard we must have been blown along at 5knts. As our watch came to an end the wind had slackened to 30knts and rowing had been resumed.
About 30mins into the next watch we heard the shout MAN OVERBOARD. I immediately came out of the cabin followed by Dolores, Simon called me over. I knew before he shouted instructions it was vital to slow the boat down, also noting it was Mike who was missing. Simon deployed the sea anchors whilst I arranged the drogue which had about 20 meters of rope on it, attaching it to the rowing riggers. Simon had already hit the man overboard button which immediately gives a position then asked me to deploy everything that could be attached to ropes giving me a full coil of rope. Simon then got on the VHF sending out mayday calls. I began gathering items to go over the side, buckets and jackets tied together, cabin matts.
Murray stood high on the aft cabin with the brightest lamp shouting all the time over and over saying he could see Mikes head torch, we all managed to get a glimpse of it but a very long way from the boat.
Falmouth rescue center had taken up the response after we had hit the EPIRB and Simon began to explain the wind direction and sea conditions. Everybody was still trying to slow the boat by keeping the oars in the water, Simon threw over the liferaft attached to a long line. I started to fill the ballest tanks.
Three or four hours had elapsed since the start of the emergency when as I was filling the last of the ballast tanks a large wave crashed over the boat knocking me over with a large crack from my knee. Still hoping I could help I grabbed one of the oars for Dolorese, shortly afterwards I began to shake, soaking wet through hypothermia had taken over.
Simon pulled me into the rear cabin and with some help got my soaking tee shirt of. A space blanket was soon covering me and I began to regain my senses. Over the sound of the sea I could hear Simon talking to Falmouth informing him a freighter was about a 100 nm away and was on course toward us, also a search and rescue aircraft would be with us at first light. By this time most of the crew were suffering from hypothermia so Simon had ordered people into the cabins until daylight
The freighter arrived about 10am the next morning, the captain spoke to Simon on the radio saying he would do a search pattern until 2 hrs before sun down at which point he would return to take us aboard. The aircraft had also appeared and was beginning its own search. All other shipping in the vicinity joined in the search but sadly Mike was never spotted and as the daylight faded the search was abandoned.
The freighter a Polish vessel named Sea Pearl returned and picked us up, the Toby Wallace was abandoned.
We were dropped of 8 days later at the next port of call in Brazil and from there arranged flights home. Graham Walters ____________________________________________________
The Last Challenge - The Source to The Sea - The Khaggavisanna
Toby Wallace Tragedy - The Puffin Transatlantic Row - Contents