Rescued rowers 'glad to be alive'

A British oarsman has spoken of the moment a rogue wave split his team’s boat - and delivered a “killer blow” to hopes of breaking the transatlantic rowing record.

A British oarsman has spoken of the moment a rogue wave split his team’s boat - and delivered a “killer blow” to hopes of breaking the transatlantic rowing record.

Times journalist Jonathan Gornall was one of four crew aboard the Pink Lady who were rescued early this morning after their hi-tech rowing boat was hit by a hurricane.

The men were left clinging to a life raft after waves reaching up to 60ft battered the craft and broke it in half.

Gornall, 48, from London, was in the rear cabin with watchmate John Wills, 33, of Elstead, near Godalming, Surrey, when they were plunged into water.

Speaking to BBC News 24, Gornall described the “catastrophic results” after the “rogue” wave hit: “The next thing we knew we were under water, fighting to escape the rear part of the vessel – which, on inspection afterwards when we surfaced, appeared to be completely smashed by a tremendous wave.

“I just remember hearing it coming – unlike anything we have experienced before,” he said.

Fighting to escape in the dark “was not a pleasant experience”, he added, and he thanked their rescuers, saying “one of the nicest sights I have seen in a long time” was the crew of the Swedish vessel lowering the ladder.

He said: “We are all very grateful to be alive. It is a shame we didn’t make it, but at least we can assure ourselves it wasn’t anything we did wrong.

“It was just, you know, you take on nature and you take what she delivers and on this particular occasion she delivered a killer blow.”

The team, led by 40-year-old skipper Mark Stubbs, a firefighter from Poole, Dorset, and also including ex-SAS diver Pete Bray, 48, of South Wales, had been on course to break the 108-year-old Atlantic crossing record of 55 days.

The men, sponsored by Pink Lady apples, were hoping to raise £50,000 for the British Heart Foundation with their efforts.

Falmouth coastguard said the men were picked up by the Scandinavian Reefer approximately 300 miles west of the Isles of Scilly.

A Coastguard spokesman said one of the rowers was suffering from hypothermia and another had slight head injuries, but they do not need urgent hospital treatment.

Coastguards initially scrambled a rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor in north Devon to recover the men, but it was later turned back because of potentially dangerous weather conditions.

The Scandinavian Reefer is due to arrive at the port of Foynes tomorrow morning.

The Pink Lady rowers, who have been at sea for 39 days since setting off from Newfoundland, Canada, on June 30, battled strong winds and enormous waves after becoming caught up in Hurricane Alex yesterday.

The boat’s distress beacon was activated just after 2.30am, and the four men climbed into their life raft wearing survival suits to await rescue.

Mr Stubbs this morning told shore team manager Bob Barnsley that the crew members were “rattled but safe”.

The Falmouth Coastguard spokesman said the oarsmen had been “very lucky”.

He added: “When it hit them, they were battened down and they were well ready for it. They rowed most of it out, but they got caught by the back end of it - it hit them with its tail, if you like.”

The team, who all have extensive Atlantic ocean rowing experience, had been rowing virtually non-stop in pairs for two hours at a time.

Only ten of the 29 attempts to row the Atlantic from west to east have been successful, and six men have died in the attempt.

The current record for the 2,100-mile journey was set in 1896 by two Norwegian fishermen and equalled 17 years ago by Briton Tom McClean.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox