Pacific Specific and Charlie

Its easy (especially in the comfort of your own home) to underestimate the emotional side of rowing an ocean and also how much psychological preparation is needed for a row, well beyond the physical aspects of training, and in our case, as non-solo rowers, the addition of the team dynamics.  Hats off to anyone who has ever rowed an ocean, as this week I’ve seen Atlantic Ocean rower Janice (http://www.rowforsilence.com/en/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=Profile-Link-EN&utm_campaign=Social) from Germany struggle with dealing with the ‘what next’ bit, having completed her row, OPG Patron and British ocean rower Sarah Outen (http://www.sarahouten.com/) is now back in Japan and has gone offline whilst she recharges and works out her next steps, and Charlie and his boat Blossom, are now on a ship headed towards Vancouver, due to arrive tomorrow, having been rescued after 3 days of storm hell in which he capsized so many times that I’m amazed he actually knows which way is up anymore.

Special mention at this point about the wonderful Tony Humphries, for not only being on the support crew for Charlie’s ocean row and looking after Charlie so well, but also for being involved with our ocean row preparation and working really hard to get us ready, being on our support crew, and carrying us all this way so far.  There are always a lot of people working hard behind the scenes, not to mention sponsors, comms, and also those who are there for the unfortunate times when things don’t go as you had hoped.  Huge credit to the Japanese Coast Guards, UK based coast guards, and all the people on comms and who had made the contingency plans for both Charlie and Sarah.  All of whom are essential, and perhaps don’t always get as many mentions as they deserve, because there is always so much going on.

Anyway, I hope Charlie won’t mind be copying and pasting the latest newsletter from his support crew, but I really wanted to share it so that you can get a truer sense of what ocean rowing involves, especially when hit by a storm such as this one that stopped both Sarah and Charlie’s rows a week or so ago.  Here is the link for the original, and for all other Charlie related newsletters: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FGDsnsPp5&h=wAQEsQ1XTAQHKdi84_EBDWIbH_Arl9rCn7-gwW7L4l0Sxfg and here is what I pinched from the most recent newsletter, though you should definitely check out the original, as it has a lot of fascinating photos and updates from Charlie, who is using the row to raise money for some brilliant charities.  Here it is:

Mawar: the story

It took just ten seconds to terminate a project that had taken six years to plan, fund and execute.  A ten-second period in a crossing that was still on-track to set new records.  Ten seconds out of a journey that would have taken 130 days in total.

We’re talking about the moment, just after 0900hrs BST on Thursday 7th June, that tropical storm Mawar finally landed its terminating blow on Pacific 2012.  Charlie and Blossom had already been through the mill of Mawar; capsizing at least a dozen times, with additional ‘slams’ and ‘bounces’ as 50ft waves and 50kt winds illustrated the power and might of the Pacific Ocean in all its strength.  For all this time, Charlie had been strapped into his cabin, waiting for the storm to move on, to blow itself out, to leave him and Blossom unscathed.  

Preparation for the storm had been thorough.  In one of the last messages to come back from Blossom before comms were suspended ahead of the storm, Charlie wrote: “Yep, this is uncharted territory indeed.  I’ve taken all steps as listed by Tony [Humphreys].  According to the forecast, the wind is picking up now.  Offline until further notice.”  As the storm increased in intensity, Shore Support spoke to him regularly during the night of Wednesday 6th June: a difficult time for everyone involved, especially when capsizes occurred during our conversations.  A rushing sound; a sharp intake of breath from Charlie; temporary silence – and then Charlie back on the line again.  Both parties were helpless in the face of Mawar: we could offer nothing more than words of reassurance, encouragement and calm, while all Charlie had to rely on was the hope that the storm would soon end.

My notes from Charlie’s calls on the morning of 7th June reveal that he was ‘sounding more composed than in previous call but clearly exhausted.  Reporting broken kit outside cabin; no details.’  And then came the call I hoped I’d never receive, just minutes after I’d made those notes.  “Ade, EPIRB activated.  The bulkhead’s cracked.” [image left

Bulkhead damage
There’s a gulf of difference between preparing for the possibility of a situation occurring, and its actual occurrence. Tony and I knew we had a plan in place to deal with this situation and its mechanisms were now engaging and swinging into action.  But it doesn’t lighten either the responsibility for handling it, nor the emotions that kick in with the sudden rush of adrenalin.  Moreover, it didn’t help that once we had spoken to Falmouth Coastguard to confirm the EPIRB activation, the message came back from the Japan Coastguard to say they were dealing with another emergency concerning a rowing boat.  It left no room for speculation; fellow Briton Sarah Outen had been about 300nm SW of Charlie and was the only other ocean rower on the Pacific.  It served only to underline the severity of the situation.

What had happened?  Mawar had ‘pitch-poled’ Blossom.  Pitch-poling is about the most dangerous form of capsize any boat can experience.  It’s also incredibly rare, but Mawar had provided all the conditions necessary to make it happen – gale force winds and heavy seas. Blossom would have run down the face of a wave and then buried her bows in the back of the wave ahead, effectively ‘stalling’ her. Momentum lifted her stern into the air, describing an arc before she slammed down into the water, upside-down and facing the direction from which she came. It’s not difficult to imagine the forces involved in this kind of incident – and it’s testament to the skill of Jamie Fabrizio at Global Boatworks that the cracked bulkhead was the extent of the damage.  Nevertheless, Charlie would have been facing the bulkhead while he was strapped into the cabin and would have seen the crack appear with the impact; a frightening moment.

With the Coastguard informed and confirmation from Japan that their rescue operation was underway, we knew there was nothing more to do.  It didn’t take long for the media to get wind of the situation, following a routine news release from Falmouth and a statement from the Japan Coastguard.  Soon, Shore Support was besieged with calls from journalists wanting to know more; this while we were still trying to keep in touch with Charlie as he awaited rescue, and offer him further reassurance about the state of the bulkhead.  

Meanwhile, the water that had come into the cabin on impact was taking its toll on the electrical system and Blossom’s ‘nerve centre’ – the communications kit.  After a series of aborted calls from Charlie, our last contact with him was at 1237hrs on Thursday (when we told him not to worry about rationing out the remaining Green & Black’s chocolate; just tuck in).  All we could do now was wait for news from the Coastguard in Japan, who had told us that a fast patrol vessel was on its way to Charlie’s position, and a spotter plane would be overflying his location shortly.  We were also told that a merchant vessel was headed towards him.
MV Last Tycoon
Last Tycoon, a 22,500t UK-owned bulk carrier, had left the Japanese port of Naoshima on June 4th, bound for Vancouver.  Aware of typhoon Mawar, Captain Alex Kornilov kept the storm on the starboard side of the ship as it tracked the Japanese coast but, as he picked up the Great Circular route, conditions began to worsen.  The Captain reported that the wind had reached Force 11 on the Beaufort Scale and the sea state was 10; Last Tycoon was pitching and rolling heavily, prompting careful adjustment of engine RPM to minimise movement and avoid damage to the hull.  These conditions sustained for the whole day.

Soon after the EPIRB alert had reached Falmouth, a call from the Japan Coastguard (JCG) alerted them to Charlie’s situation, giving them the news of the distress alert and the distress position and effecting an immediate alteration in course.  The wind and swell were now on Last Tycoon’s port beam and, with the ship rolling heavily, progress was slow.  At times, her speed was actually negative – the ship was moving backwards.  Eventually, as conditions improved, forward speed increased and by next morning the speed log was showing 7 knots.

Meanwhile Blossom had been drifting; she was now 50nm SE of the first position received.  By 1750BST on June 8 – some 33 hours after Charlie’s distress call – Last Tycoon arrived in the area and called JCG for an updated position, which turned out to be another 40 minutes south-east.  Captain Kornilov started to send signals by ship’s whistle and began an expanded square search – a series of concentric squares, starting out at the expected location, with all course alterations being 90 degrees.  All the time, they were also trying to raise Blossom on VHF.

Captain Kornilov found it very difficult to discover Blossom amongst the high waves , but at 2025BST voice communication was established.  However, even with Charlie providing approximate distance and bearing, finding Blossom remained difficult.  Visual contact was finally established five minutes later after Charlie lit a distress flare.  With Blossom drifting without power or steering, extreme caution was required when approaching her.  Last Tycoon made a good lee and protected Blossom from the wind and waves by her hull.  Slowly the distance decreased and the crew was able to secure Blossom to alongside Last Tycoon.  Two pilot ladders were ready and at 2100BST Charlie came on board using the ladder.

At 2118BST, Charlie called Shore Support to let us know he was onboard Last Tycoon – and that the crew was going to help him recover Blossom.  Their first attempt failed after the heavy swell broke the securing lines, allowing Blossom to drift free. The engine crew then produced a grapnel and Last Tycoon manoeuvred again – it can’t have been an easy task – to complete the recovery operation, using the ship’s crane.

Captain Kornilov finished his report with the following statement: “All the crew is surprised with the courage of Mr Martell…of course, all of us [are] happy that we could save a human life at sea.”

Charlie’s family and Shore Support is  immensely grateful to the captain and crew of Last Tycoon for their unstinting dedication in pursuing Charlie’s location, and their skill in effecting not only his rescue but also the recovery of Blossom.  Both the Falmouth and Japan Coastguards are also to be thanked for their professionalism and efficiency in dealing with the situation; not only with Charlie, but also in the safe rescue of Sarah Outen earlier in the day.

What now?

Charlie’s now en route to Vancouver, ETA June 19th.  Shore Support’s been in regular contact.  “I’m being very well looked after,” he says. “The Captain and crew are very kind.  I’m reading my Kobo (it survived getting a bit damp and wet!).”

As for future thoughts about the Pacific itself, it’s too early to say.  Blossom did what she was supposed to do – stay intact, stay afloat, stay a ‘lifeboat’ for Charlie – but she is badly damaged.  She’s coming back to the UK so watch this space, because there will be an opportunity to see her and hear more from Charlie about his ‘three days of torture’, as the Sunday Times article described it.

The messages everyone’s been sending are waiting for Charlie’s return to shore.  He’s seen some of them but comms are somewhat limited while he’s aboard Last Tycoon; however, he knows the sheer scale of support, empathy and encouragement that’s arrived, and he’s promised he’ll reply to you all as soon as he can.  He’s delighted that he managed to raise £13,000 for his charities before the voyage was cut so cruelly short; he still remains amazed that while it was those benefiting from those charities who inspired him to undertake this challenge, it’s now his experiences and ability to cope with them that are igniting inspiration in you.  As he’s said before, ‘Inspiration goes both ways’.

Ways you can [still] help…

  • Email Charlie – he’ll really appreciate reading your messages when he’s back in the UK
  • Help him get a little further towards his goal.  The pages at Justgiving (for UK donations) and Firstgiving (for US residents) are still live and still accepting donations. 
  • Follow Charlie on Twitter, to find out what’s happening

This is probably going to be the last Pacific Specific Newsletter; any future communications will necessitate a different title! Thank you from Shore Support for all the offers of assistance and messages that we’ve received since May 4.  We’ve already missed the daily blogs; producing and sharing the latest videos; the condensing of Charlie’s blogs and satphone comments into Tweets; the dolphins; Nemo; the weekly Green&Black’s lucky dip; the mermaid loops; and of course, the daily fixation on a little yellow dot making its way slowly across the Pacific Ocean.  But most of all, we’re simply relieved that Charlie’s uninjured and on his way home.  It will be good to see him.

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in Britishness, Explorers, Health and Fitness, Ocean Rowing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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