Stockwood

This was my wonderful red and yellow 30 foot ocean racing trimaran.

After a several years preparation I entered the 1988 Singlehanded Transatlantic Race. That's solo for the 2810 miles from Plymouth to Newport Rhode Island. The race has been run every 4 years since Sir Francis Chichester first won the race in 1960, taking 40 days. In '88 Philip Poupon won in just 11 days in a 60 foot trimaran. The route is against the prevailing winds and currents, through areas of dense fog and icebergs. I was aiming at around 25 days, the boat having previously done the trip in 22 days with 2 crew.

Three days into the race I had had hardly any sleep, as the sea lanes into the English Channel are very busy, but now I was well into the Atlantic and looking forward to some kip. Anyhow, I was driving the boat hard in a force 8 gale, making around 15 knots. The leeward outrigger was completely submerging sometimes, I really had too much sail up but the adrenaline was flowing - I was determine to make a fast passage. Then as the outrigger submerged again its deck hit a piece of driftwood as it broke the surface. It ripped through the thin decking which was not designed for such unexpected rough treatment.

The outrigger is divided into three "watertight" sections, the front one was soon full of water, the weight of which put the boat totally out of balance and almost impossible to sail. I hove-to and donned my survival suit and after inspecting the damage sawed out my navigation table for a patch. However balancing on small slippery outriggers, with big Atlantic rollers breaking around your ears isn't a good woodworking environment. I couldn't repair it. Having had little sleep since the start of the race I decided to rest for the night and await dawn and calming of the wind and sea.

By dawn the float had fully flooded, the strain of the water crashing around in the front compartment having taken its toll on the other compartments. The wind had moderated to about a 5 and the sea was big but not breaking. I decided to turn round and try and sail back to England. The alternative being to drift down to the Azores. I was weak from lack of sleep. Anyhow the sailing was a disaster. The float had several tonnes of water in it and would dig in and swing the boat around into wind, it'd then rush off sailing backwards and then stall again. This went on for several long exhausting hours. Eventually during one of these evolutions the boat got knocked down.

That was when I panicked!

I had taken a Sony Talkman with me to record a diary of my progress. Click below to hear some live action. It's about two minutes long and starts with me on deck in the black of night as great waves crash about me. Then I had the Talkman in my hand as disaster struck, you hear someone who really believed they'd just escaped death, and wasn't sure it was just around the corner. Finally you hear me a week later on a trawler that picked me up.

I was keeping an audio diary and will try to reactivated some audio clips from it here, when I've a moment.

In conclusion I nearly drowned, lost the boat (£20K) which was impossible to insure for such an event. I was arrested at gunpoint on arrival in Spain, but did manage to get on the front page of the Times - yes it is me on the in the picture. They reported it incorrectly, I was not saved by air, an RAF Nimrod did fly past the wreckage and got word back to my wife that they'd seen wreckage but no me.

And yes, I was doing it for charity and despite sinking raised over £5000 for the Cancer Research Campaign.

Also see: North Sea Cruise   Robin is now a volunteer Sea Cadet Instructor and RYA Dinghy Instructor.

home