Last night, it was with great relief that we were able to announce the Fire Ant crew had safely transferred from the rowing boat to a cargo vessel. Gemma (Fire Ant captain) called on the satellite phone today with more detail of the rescue operation.
Gemma has asked that we pass on a heart felt thanks to the UK Coastguard and the Captain and crew of the two ships that came to their aid. Note: we are withholding the name of the ships until we have the owners permission to publish.
Late on Friday – just as it was getting dark – Fire Ant suffered a capsize. The crew were unhurt, but knew the boat had taken some damage. It was not until first light on Saturday that they could assess the damage. Inspection showed they had broken another oar. Even with the oar they had repaired the previous day, this left them with only three. It was also discovered their GPS chart plotter had been torn from its mount, the water maker compartment had flooded and the AIS (automatic identification system) that allows them to detect ships in their area had stopped working.
Given the accumulated impact (less propulsion, limited navigation, no AIS, limited ability to make water) of the damage, the crew, in consultation with shore support and HM Coastguard decided to initiate a rescue – just after 09:00 UK time. HM Coastguard asked the crew to trigger their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). The coastguard then issued a MAYDAY relay broadcast message to all ships in the area asking for assistance. Several vessels responded and the nearest two were asked to proceed to the location of Fire Ant.
The first of 2 large ships arrived at some time late in the evening and started rescue operations. The plan was to stop the cargo vessel up wind of the rowing boat, allowing Fire Ant to row into the wind shadow of the large ship. This proved difficult due to Fire Ants now limited number of oars. In the meantime the second vessel arrived on station and stood off in case extra help was needed. The first ship tried several times to get in an appropriate position. On the seventh attempt the ships crew were able to throw a line from their bow to Fire Ant. They then guided the rowing boat along the ship to the pilot boarding ladder. The Fire Ant crew then climbing the ladder to safety.
Gemma reported the ships crew have really looked after them. The have a cabin each, a proper bed with clean sheets and they have each taken their first shower in more than two weeks.
The ship is now bound for Canada and should arrive on the 22nd or 23rd of this month. This should give Gemma enough time to fly back to England before heading on to Barbados to see her husband Simon Chalk and the crew of the Toby Wallace arrive. An unexpected but welcome opportunity.
And talking about the Toby Wallace, we still have one rowing boat out there. Simon and the crew are very relieved to here the Fire Ant team are safe. They have also had quite and eventful few days. They have managed their fasted 24 hours to date, with an impressive 92 nautical miles towards Barbados. The were visited by a large Whale for over an hour on Friday and had a brief encounter with a Shark today.
Simon reports the Toby Wallace has slowed slightly today. The crew were pleased to reach half way, but a little disappointed to find they are currently 3 hours behind record pace. This is still quite impressive given they were stopped for 12 hours when they repaired their rudder. If they can complete the second half at a similar speed with no stops they should be ahead of the record again.
Today has been a very busy day on shore with Skype video interviews for BBC, SKY and BFBS and numerous talks with Radio, News papers and online media.
We are very pleased to see the Fire Ant just giving page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/femaleatlanticrow2016 is still receiver donations.