For New Year’s Day we had an interesting log ready to go. It included resolutions to take less risk with life, The Pacific Ocean, looking forward to Cape Horn - and delectably delighted to be back in the Vendee after a hard three weeks in the Indian Ocean. Then ‘wham’, and within a few hours the mast, and my dream came tumbling down.
You roll the dice. I was caught a little bit unawares. I was in 20-25 knots of breeze and a very vicious 35kt squall came through and the self-steering malfunctioned just at the wrong moment. I did an involuntary gybe and then a gybe back. The boat was out of control and I was caught without the runner properly on and the mast snapped. I have to laugh because if I don’t I will cry. The mast came clean off at the deck and in fact it was intact. But the whole rig went over the side. I had the difficult decision to make of whether to try and save the rig or whether to save the hull of the boat.
“I thought of safety first. I cut the rig free from the boat. I was worried that the stump of the rig would hole the boat. The seas were pretty wild. There was a big sea running. I cut the entire rig free. I am mastless, the deck was holed. It is not a happy situation but there it is, you roll the dice. That is the risk you take. I am devastated. Things were going quite well. I was in good shape. Having got this far I felt we could handle anything.
“There was just that little malfunction of the self-steering that set a whole train in motion. I have to accept responsibility. What happens, happens. Look, you have to be philosophical. This sort of sailing is living on the edge. I have been doing that for 57 days and as the fella says if you are living on the edge you are taking up too much space. I was taking up too much space on the edge.
Fortunately I slashed away the rig to avoid it making a hole in the boat and am now secure, battered, cold, wet and isolated, miles from anywhere. And while I need help, I have been carefully not to call the rescues services. It was a sudden 35 knot squall and a series of involuntary gybes — as the boat self-steering at a critical time went out of control — which caught us without a backstay runner and not enough support for the mast.
This should not have happened. However I took the risk, it’s my responsibility and I am heartbroken for all who have supported the challenge. Thanks. Now 36 hours later I am still shaken and struggling to get back to New Zealand and no motor (a rope around the prop ) it could be many days to get in range for a tow - Meanwhile we have plenty of food and are secure on the mastless boat.
What does all this mean? Clearly I am out of the race and I would like to thank the Vendee Race Office for a great job and the on-going support of Marcus Hutchinson and Neil O’Hagan - also John Malone who put in an all-nighter to help fix us off Stewart Island. On a personal basis I will get back to individual supporters.
In particular thanks to Invivo /BIOLINE. Most important, I would like the MSL Mercedes Schools Programme to continue following the Vendee. There is great content and there are still several other good boats and skippers still on the track to get behind. Also I ask that all continue to support the ATLANTIC Youth Trust’s charity to connect youth with the ocean, and adventure. Its 30 year mission is clear and we need to invest in the future. For the Kilcullen and her sad Skipper, first we must get to land safely.
“Then it’s either one of three scenarios: 1 ) find another mast and sail back to Les Sables and complete the singlehanded circumnavigation 2 ) Leave the boat in New Zealand and find another challenge or 3 ) Ship it back to Europe. It’s all too soon to decide and work out but most important is to get back to family, friends and back to work and a ‘normal’ life - whatever that is...
On reflection, 0100 hrs., Jan 1 2015, — had I not made that fateful call at a New Years’ Party to Mike Golding to buy the Kilcullen Voyager on the phone it would not have happened.”Will I or won’t I”? And, with the logic that if you think too much about doing something you’ll never do it — and the support of The Lady Nicola “Go on says she” I called Mike. Fortunately he had not gone to bed and I was distressingly sober. There and then, agreed the price and did the deal. Like marriage, for better or worse.
The acquisition was in anticipation of the Vendee, however it would be over another year before I committed to the race. I was afraid, in awe of the power of the boat, and nervous that I could never sail her. And now, exactly two years later, having mastered the boat, a trans-Atlantic Race podium, qualified, up and down to the Canaries, around Ireland and sailed half way around the planet at least something has ‘happened’.
To wrap, now I am a bundle of emotion, trying to figure out what it all means - heartbroken and devastated.But this is a ‘First World’ problem. I am lucky to have had the opportunity and for the wonderful friends, family and people whom I have not met who have given and shown wonderful support in celebrating life, adventure, the environment, the ocean and our plant.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart - and this is the last log and you will be spared the trial and tribulations of the challenge now to get to a safe port and work it out. Happy New Year, Let’s make it a good one - but move away some from “The Edge” - it’s crowded.