Day 103

28th January 2002

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning. Usually sunrises out here are cold and blue, almost depressing because the light just fades in from black to grey and there is rarely any colour, but this morning the sky was lit with pinks, purples and oranges and felt altogether more hopeful, which was poignant considering last night…

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A ship went down last night. It was fishing just a few miles from where we have been for the last week in the north, but by the time the ship sank we had already steamed many hours south. We heard the mayday call on the bridge, and all I can say is that was utterly chilling; to know that somewhere not too far away, in the same storm as we were experiencing, all of our worst nightmares was unfolding for real. I huddled around the chart table with Miguel, and we looked at our position relative to the position given on the mayday; we were more than a hundred miles away, at least 10 hours.

Apparently a large wave caught them on the stern and there was nothing they could do to save her. They had to abandon ship straight away, which they managed to do safely; all 14 crew bobbing around in a rubber life raft waiting and hoping for rescue. Luckily there was a Spanish trawler nearby and was able to get there quickly. The Captain somehow managed to get the trawler safely alongside the life rafts and all of them got to safety. They are now steaming to Ireland with the stranded crew on board.

It really brings home the sense of vulnerability out here, these boats are surprisingly prone to sink. All of this happened at about 10 o’clock last night, by midnight I was in bed unable to sleep thinking about what had happened and feeling a renewed sense of vulnerability. At 1 o’clock we hit a huge wave, the ship slammed into it so hard it was like hitting a solid object, the noise was terrible as the Santa Maria resonated with the impact rolling around like like a stuck pig. I thought my portholes were going to burst in as the water hit them but they held. I’ve never experienced anything quite like that wave, and vaguely wondered if it was the same wave which had sunk the ship.

The crew’s quarters are even closer to the bow and so it must have been twice as bad for them. A minute later I heard a couple of the crew rushing to the bridge, so I hopped out of my bunk to see what was going on. Two of the crew were on the bridge, visibly shaken with eyes like saucers. They thought that the roof of their cabin had been crushed. The officer later translated that the crew had said that they can usually stand without stooping in their cabin, but after the wave they found they couldn’t! In reality the cabin roof hadn’t been crushed, the crew were just shaken by the massive wave, and no doubt like me, much more on edge than usual after the events earlier in the night.

This morning I sent a fax to Dave, asking him to relay to Mum and Dad that I was OK. I had visions of it being reported in the news, and then not being able to get through on the phone.

We have permission from the owner to return when the captain sees fit, so we could leave at any time. We are going to try and service with the Santa Isobel tomorrow and take off the three crew that are coming back with us. The captain says he’ll stay until the end providing the weather is okay and no inspection vessels appear. It is obvious that he is beginning to worry about my report now as he keeps trying to broach the subject, I’ll be glad when it is printed and on the desk in London with me on the train and homeward bound.

Time for tea, bye for now. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, life doesn’t get much better than a cup of tea and a Twix. Not that there aren’t better things in life, we all know there are, but tea and chocolate is cheap, legal and can be enjoyed without a consenting partner.

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