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Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Death of Enza (and my part in her demise) Part 1

The following post is the start of a series. It will document the final voyage of one of the most famous racing sail boats to have graced the oceans. I'll try and cover as much as I can, from all involved, the rescuers, the people of France, the press, the ships and of loved ones.

The recollections I present are purely from my own viewpoint. This event has six other stories from six other people. This one is mine, though it is now yours.

Part 1. Over We Go
1700ish hours: The sun is fast approaching it's nadir as I awake from my dream. Though something's different this time, something's wrong.

'No no no no no!'

We're capsizing, we're 170 miles offshore and I'm in my underwear. Unbelievable.

My present situation sees me at 46.54'.18N by 007.32'.32W. These are not the coordinates to be at on an upside down boat as the sun is setting. For those that don't know, this happens to be smack bang in the middle of The Bay of Biscay. It is hugged by the coasts of France and Spain, from here the continental shelf drops away into the Atlantic Ocean. A busy area for shipping, it is infamous for its hostility and at this particular time it is where I happen to be.

I stumble my way through to the galley, stepping over the debris between the bunks.

Sacha, my shipmate had been cooking spuds for dinner until they floated out of the pan and over his head.

'Thom, we've gone over!'

No shit.

'Turn the gas off.' is my reply.


Such amazing rationality it is that one shows in such adversity. I know what we said was ridiculous, but at least they were coherent words delivered in a calm manner. Even if the fear on our faces was more prevalent than we'd have liked.
We stumble across what used to be the galley. Any normality that existed 30 seconds ago is hanging out of the boat along with the cooker and gas can. Water and potatoes fill the space that should contain tea and biscuits, the bilge covers are against the sink, bags of rice and pasta fill the ceiling, the hatch now looks down where it used to face out. We look out of the companionway and stare across the 15 meters of boat to the other hull.

'Fucking hell!'

The profanity leaves us both in unison. We'd never seen the beam of a boat as a drop before.
The shouting stopped a little time ago. It's all dead quiet, I wonder where they all went?
That's not important just now, I need some clothes.

I head aft, to my berth and stumble across the wall of the hull, reach up to the floor to grab my boots. Wait, I don't need boots, I need layers. Steadying myself with my back now against the floor I reach down to the cabin side and choose the Salopettes left by Matt in La Carunna. He broke his foot the day before we set sail and had stayed there to enjoy this beautiful city before flying home.
I said I'd look after his gear for the return journey. Bollocks.

'Thom, we're going down.'

Sacha says this so matter of factly I assume it is a suggestion.

'You're fucking joking if you think I'm going down there... Oh I see.'

The boat groans and then yields submissively to its fate, falling the remaining 45degrees to be completely upside down. Me and Sacha are doing our best to run around the inside of the hull. Buster Keaton springs to mind. The punchline here however is a fire extinguisher square in the face. Slapstick is much funnier when it happens to other people; that fucking hurt!

The boat finishes its fall and seawater rushes in through the companionway. My breath leaves me, ironic as this is the point I need it most.

Sacha climbs down to the companionway to get out of what we assume is a boat on its way to start a new life as a reef.

'SACHA!' I remember scaring myself at how serious I had sounded.


'Wait for me.'

Please, I need you with me.

My fingers and brain had been struggling to free a knot on an already inflating lifejacket from where it used to hang. Sacha tells me he'll see me in a minute and drops through the companionway. I take in a last look around, I can't believe it. With a deep breath I plunge myself into the saline waters of the Bay of Biscay. I never thought I'd be doing that.

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