The stark reality of life at sea

Mick describing the ship which rescued him.

It’s been a busy few hours on the world’s oceans for ocean rowers… and their rescuers! In the last 48 hours the six crew of Sara G were rescued from the Atlantic, while on the other side of the world in the Bass Straight, a crew of three requested assistance.

It’s a stark reminder that the ocean is in charge. Always. Whilst it would be easy to assume that these rowers were inexperienced or unprepared, the reality is that these boats were skippered and crewed by some of the most experienced ocean rowers in the world.

Matt Craughwell, skipper and owner of Sara G has two successful Atlantic crossings under his belt and one incomplete attempt. He holds the overall speed record in this boat, which was set 12 months ago. His crew and boat were meticulously prepared and one of the crew, Mark Beaumont, took part in the epic ‘Row to the Pole’ during 2011.

In the Bass Straight, Margaret Bowling, veteran of two successful Atlantic crossings was skippering and the journey was only intended to last 11 days from mainland Australia to Tasmania.

But as is often the case, the ocean can quickly take control and can quite literally turn your world upside down in an instant. Sara G was capsized by two 35-foot waves converging on the boat, while Margaret’s team were all in the cabin, an indication that it was pretty rough outside, when the boat rolled and crewmate Ben Turner’s elbow came off worse in an argument with a peli-case.

Reports indicate that the crew of Sara G managed their incident expertly and experienced a text book rescue, although forced to spend 12 hours in a liferaft. Margaret’s team made sure Ben was as comfortable as possible and when a Pan Pan call on the radio went unanswered (as there were no boats nearby), they got in touch with their shore team who coordinated recovery with the Australian Coastguard and Victoria Water Police.

The OAR crew has also had first hand experience of what it’s like to capsize in the middle of the ocean. Mick Dawson and Andrew Morris suffered a night time capsize on their first Atlantic crossing. Andrew was in the cabin but Mick was outside and thrown clear of the boat, which he lost sight of. It was only the sound of Robbie Williams pumping out of the boat’s waterproof speakers that guided him back to the boat where he was able to climb to safety. He was lucky; often rowing boats will drift faster in the ocean currents than a human can swim.

Mick also experienced a rescue mid-Pacific when his boat capsized and he was picked up by a commercial vessel. Imagine for a moment being thrown around by big waves at water level while a ship the size of a small city negotiates its way alongside. Then you have the long climb up the vertical sides of the ship on an insubstantial ladder before you can hope to consider yourself ‘safe’! It’s a good job Mick had his special ‘lucky piece of wood’ to hand… but more on that in a later blog!

We asked Mick and Andrew for their thoughts on the recent developments and here’s what they said:

Andrew “Hearing about the two boats in trouble brought back many memories and serves as a good reminder that we will be a small speck on a very big ocean! Respect is the name of the game and we need to remain alert and not allow ourselves to become complacent for a single minute while we’re out at sea.”

Mick “This news reinforces the decision for us both to renew our Sea Survival training, just in case we do find ourselves in a similar situation. Even with our experience, the ocean is going to test us beyond all limits and we need to be fully prepared.”

Capsizing in the North Atlantic is a real possibility for Mick and Andrew, but one that they’re taking very seriously. Bojangles was built to be robust and use all Mick’s experience to ensure she’s as stable as possible. She was certainly put to the test on the North Pacific but stayed upright, and the team are confident of her ability to handle rough conditions.

In the meantime, we’ll post more details about Mick and Andrew’s Sea Survival training over the next few months – we’ve even got a few surprises lined up to help make sure they’re fully prepared!

Mick describing the ship which rescued him. Imagine something that big trying to come alongside!
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