We departed Lymington at 09:05 on Thursday morning 19 September 2002, after filing a passage plan to the Solent Coast Guard. Our planned route was to take my wife Fiona and close friend, Simon and myself, across the Channel in a SSW direction through the Alderney Race and directly to the north coast of Jersey and on to
St. Helier. The fuel we had on board afforded us a range of approximately 300nm. Total distance was no more than 100nm. All the necessary precautions (weather forecast, etc.) were taken, as well as the correct safety equipment was on board.
We turned to port as we past the Needles and opened the throttles on my newly acquired Scorpion Sportscruiser. The first half and hour or so was completed at a reasonable speed, 35knts. This was not to be maintained however, as the seas were building and cresting waves were threatening with the occasional one breaking over us. I slowed down to approximately 23knts and the RIB was performing superbly at this speed, quite comfortable too. It was after an hour or so at which point I slowed down for a comfort break, opened the cabin door to grab some Mars Bars and to our horror found the entire cabin flooded. A quick inspection revealed water ingress on either side of the cabin, but we could not see any visible damage as it is laid out with carpeting and difficult to access. Simon started bailing water with a bucket and I kept us on course for approximately another hour at a speed of only 8/9 knts. The boat was feeling very sluggish, unbeknown to us, the hull was rapidly filling with water too.
At about this time I picked up the mic and signalled a pan pan call as I felt we were still moving and we were fairly in control with bailing all the water out. I managed to speak to a passing freight container ship and requested he relay our call to Guernsey radio. Unfortunately the radio operator was of Asian descent (not that I have anything against Asians, mind you!) and he somewhat ‘cocked up’ our description of the situation. Most concerning was the incorrect lat and long was given. I could go on for a few hours describing the chaos that ensued with every passing ship and nationality wanting to talk to us, but I do not want to bore you with all this!!
The GPS/Plotter indicated 23nm to Alderney when the next stage of the drama unfolded. A very large 12/15 foot wave broke right over our port bow and ripped the entire tube off from the bow to approximately amidships. At this time the valves tore out inside the cabin and water flooded in from the large 4 holes on either side. Within seconds we were knee-deep in water and I escalated our predicament to a mayday call. We were lucky to have been in range for our mobile telephones to operate and Simon placed a call to Gsy radio, whilst I was on the VHF. The logic behind the mobile phone usage was that it was a ‘closed communication’ medium and confusion was ruled out. The Alderney Life-boat had already been launched and we monitored the communication between them and other vessels in the area. The most frustrating part in all of this was the fact that the Italians, French, Chinese etc, etc, were all directing them AWAY from us. Our position was NNW 17nm from Alderney. The life-boat was heading due north and we believe about 9nm away.
It was then we spotted the French rescue helicopter and I quickly fired a flare which they spotted and turned straight towards us. In the meantime we were knee to waist deep in water and moving forwards at about 3knts. I am not sure what the weight would be, but the entire hull as well as deck area was flooded. The French helicopter winched a diver down who assessed the situation as the Alderney life-boat came into view. We still do not know why, but the French then lowered a huge 2 stroke pump onto my boat, fired this thing up and attempted to pump all the water out. It was a futile exercise as the level remained the same. The Alderney crew suggested to the French that they take over the rescue (much to our joy!) and winched their man with all his kit back into the chopper.
We were thrown a line and the tow proceeded towards Braye harbour. After approximately half an hour the coxswain instructed us to prepare to abandon the rib, I assured him it would not sink, but he insisted to which we conceded. They came alongside and we scrabbled onto the lifeboat. Two of their crew then got onto the rib.
Arrived in Alderney two hours later and the rib was immediately lifted out the water.
I would like to publicly thank all the residents of Alderney (some I do know frequent this forum), in particular the Alderney RNLI who were as usual, absolutely fantastic.
Pictures to follow……………….