I was down below sleeping in my bunk at just after 14h00 when I heard a loud noise and much activity on deck. I sat up just before we crash gybed and fell through the bunk’s lee cloth, as we did so falling into the saloon table. I put my pfd (personal flotation device) and harness on and rushed up onto the deck. I learned that the rudder shaft had broken; the genoa had already been furled, and we then took down and stacked main sail.
There was a lot of activity down below trying to work out the extent of the damage and what our options were. Realising that we were taking water from the damage to the rudder area/assembly and were in danger of sinking, we prepared and packed waterproof grab bags with essentials we may need, were we to have to abandon the boat for the life raft. These would also be needed if we were fortunate enough to be picked up by another boat.
The Skipper was later also talking to the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) amongst others. Everyone was surprisingly calm and collected on board and we were either sitting waiting or busy with whatever tasks were required. Abandoning into the life raft is not something to take lightly and it wasn’t something I wanted to do; not sure if it’s from watching too many movies where the outcome wasn’t good. Fortunately, we received word via the radio that the Iranian cargo ship, Golafruz, was altering course to see if they could assist; this was a welcome relief. Another ship, Berge Denali, advised that they would also standby in case they were needed.
Around four and a half hours after the incident, we saw a huge ship on the horizon and realised that this must be the Golafruz. We also realised that it wasn’t going to be an easy rescue. I decided to give my wife a call from the cockpit via satellite phone to try and put her and Jordan’s mind at ease. I knew they would have heard we were in trouble and wanted to let them know that the ship had arrived and we were going to be rescued. I tried to sound as confident as possible, and didn’t want to come across emotional or too nervous.
I recall the Captain kept repeating over the radio that ‘we will attempt a positive outcome’. He was concerned about the swell and sea conditions which he described as being very rough, along with us not crossing his bow as he would not be able to stop and it would have been catastrophic for us. He also said that the fit and healthy should attempt to board first. We later learned when speaking to Captain Janbod aboard the Golafruz that he expected 2 out of the 8 not to make it due to the difficulty of the conditions and the climb onto the ship.
The first pass by the ship was too far away and with Trekker pointing in the wrong direction and without the use of her rudder, we could not motor closer. Lines were thrown, but we were too far away to collect them and the ship was going too fast. The second pass was about 25 minutes later after the ship had turned around and reapproached, this time quite a bit slower. Miraculously Trekker II was facing the side of the ship as it approached and Mark could motor towards her; she held her course and approached the Starboard side of the ship.
The engine had already alarmed and died previously as Mark had cut the water inlet in anticipation of the scuttling; the engine died for a final time just as we were close enough to the ship. The first couple of lines were too far away and we started drifting towards the back of the ship in her wash. Wesley and Richard were eventually able to catch one of the lines thrown by the ship and secure it to the bow.
Trekker was facing the same direction as the ship when the line was secured but the bow then drifted away and she did a 180 degree turn away from the ship. The line therefore looped around her and was then also secured to the port main cockpit winch was straining under huge pressure; it held though. We were now secured backwards up against the Golafruz with another bow line having also been secured. We tried to put out fenders to limit the banging between the two vessels, but these either popped out from between the vessels or burst with the pressure. We had to brace ourselves for each jolt; Trekker held up amazingly though. To complicate things further, it was now dark!
A rope ladder was dropped over the side of the Golafruz to us on the yacht. The ship was empty and had around 11 metres of freeboard which we were going to have to climb up. The yacht was moving through 3 to 4 metres with the swell and rolling and pitching quite badly. Richard was nominated to go up the ladder first; timing was everything in terms of grabbing the ladder and making it safely off Trekker. It was a huge relief once he was safely aboard. I then attempted the climb and got the timing wrong without getting a proper hold on the ladder and with my arms too low I started swinging; I realised I had to get back on Trekker and that I was at risk of falling between the two boats which would have been catastrophic. I got a hellavu fright and shouted for someone to pull me. Fortunately, Wesley was there and pulled me backwards with me falling on the deck very relieved.
Mike then climbed to safety where after I did so; successfully this time. That feeling of relief when pulled over the guard rails of the Golafruz was huge. A second line was then lowered so that the remaining crew at least had a backup whilst climbing; in hindsight, we should have done this from the first climber. Another rope was lowered and our bags, which we had moved to the cockpit in the hope that we’d be able to salvage them, were pulled up on board. Peter, Rob and Shaun V then climbed successfully aboard. Wesley followed and Mark went below to ensure that the boat would sink after he had left it. He then climbed aboard the Golafruz.
We watched with much sadness as Trekker II was let loose and floated off to sink in the Atlantic Ocean; she was a great boat! She at least spent her last voyage restored to her former glory and racing as she should be; at least as best we could race her. A boat that is abandoned at sea must be scuttled/sunk so as it doesn’t become a navigational hazard for other vessels. It was a shame especially after all the effort Rob and Shaun had put into restoring her, and the work which Mark had done.
The crew were very welcoming and I think were almost as relieved as we were; ok, probably not quite. There were many photos taken on deck and much hugging and handshaking. We were given some jaffel type cakes and juice and water and then taken to the crew’s mess and made to feel very welcome. We were also given supper whilst they worked out what cabins they could house us in. They also brought out towels, blankets, sheets, pillows etc. for us. They were incredibly hospitable!
The ship is 225 metres long and the Captain who made the decision to rescue us and save our lives (and I’m not being dramatic) despite difficult sea and weather conditions was Captain Amir Janbod aboard the Golafruz.