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The Solo Voyage Diaries: That sinking feeling

Chris Stanmore-Major

V5O11csm 2496 300x225 The Solo Voyage Diaries: That sinking feelingI was on deck working and at the time we were flying along at around 18 to 20 knots. I came down below and all of a sudden when I got into the cabin, I realised there was a lot of water in the boat. I have literally never seen that much water inside a boat before! My immediate thought was that something had breached the hull.  After the initial shock, I quickly set about a plan of action, something that I’d honed in the Southern Ocean, and tried to tackle the problem. I then informed the race control I thought I was dealing with a hull breach and that I was dealing with it. After a thorough check, there was only one place the water was coming into the cabin, and that was by the rear bulkhead. As the water levels started to go down I could see better what was going – a 3ft crack in the hull by the bulkhead. Thankfully, there was no hole in the hull which would have been a disaster but it was clear that water had flooded in from the back compartment of the boat and then weighed the whole thing down.

I phoned race control to let them know the situation was under control and it was then they informed me that in the flood my EPIRB (electronic position indicating radio beacon) which is mounted inside the boat had got wet and had sent off a signal. While I had been bailing water out, race control and the emergency services had responded to the EPIRB signal by diverting Derek and Gutek and a helicopter was scrambled in Halifax. I told the race control I was OK and not in need of assistance, and Gutek and Derek were able to return to racing.

I could then get on with finding out what the issue was. After all the bending and flexing and bouncing around in the Southern Ocean and up through the Atlantic, the rear bulkhead had split from the hull, so when I filled the back compartment with water to maximum capacity to speed the boat up all that water was redirected into the cabin. It filled the cabin very very quickly.

The only thing I haven’t got now is internet – the engine started, and thank god the autopilots are OK. Unfortunately one of my bags was open at the time and all my clothes are now totally soaked. The inside of the boat looks like a car crash but we’re back on track heading in the right direction. What seemed like an absolute disaster at the time has thankfully been averted but it has given me a lot to think about.

When it happened it was like that feeling when you know you are going over the handlebars of your bike and everything goes out of your control. It’s that kind of trapdoor feeling where you think ‘OK, this is serious’. I have enough experience of these situations to know the difference between having a bit of water inside the boat, and actually thinking I am sinking.

It was big incident and I now have to spend some time clearing up the boat and getting back up to speed. I also have the issue of not being able to get weather information because my internet is down. Derek and Gutek are locked in a battle for second overall, while I’m in there trying to mix it up a bit, and then there is the speed gate to think about so they already have a lot going on. Put on top of that them having to divert to me and I am so thankful they were able to do that so selflessly. However, it does mean now that they will have to have a meeting with the race committee. I just wish that EPIRB hadn’t set itself off but what happened has happened.

From my point of view it’s also reminder that we have been out here for a long time now and I need to be very very careful with my boat. Not only is it a piece of sporting equipment, it is also my survival cell if something goes wrong.

The speed gate is coming up and we’re still fully functional so we will give it the best shot we can. We’re still in the race and we will try to give the other guys hell before we get to the finish.

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