I hit the buttons on my SAT-phone, and the truly comforting voice of my dear friend Peter Dunning, race communications coordinator of every BOC Challenge, was soon speaking to me. I told him what had happened, and we agreed that the yacht Newcastle Australia was the nearest help, some 90 miles to the north. As a backup, we agreed I should let off my 406 EPIRB satellite distress beacon and that I should call him every hour.
Alan, on Newcastle, was contacted by Standard C [a global E-mail system] and asked to head straight for me. I had told race control I would leave my SSB [single-side band] radio on the 4 MHz frequency we had been using for the skippers' chat hour and listen for Alan's call. Things were happening so quickly. My adventure aboard this superb racing machine had turned into a nightmare. To compound matters, it was getting dark outside, and the ominous sound of the water inside the yacht rushing from side to side as she labored in the seaway was simply terrifying.
Things were dire. I realized I was still heading away from Alan. So I scrambled topside and downed the mainsail to head the boat back northward in the 18-to-20-knot se'ly that was blowing. With a little headsail out, I was making three to four knots still, and I hoped that slowing her would help stem the inward water flow. She felt stricken, and the foredeck was already burying under the surface with the weight of the Hooding forward.
Back down below I took floorboards and braced them up against the damaged area and against the next bulkhead aft, trying to keep water forward of the ship's batteries and communications gear. I rigged up my huge manual bilge pump and started pulling. Shortly after, Alan came up on the radio, and I knew help was on the way. His ETA was 6½ hours. Time had no real meaning to me, though, as I pumped and prayed.
I had to speak to Laura, my wife. I didn't want to scare her, but at the same time I just had to hear her voice. [Hall could call her directly on the Standard M phone.] She answered the phone having already been brought up to date by race control. It broke me to hear her, and some tears were shed, I have to say.
Alan was being constantly updated as to my position by BOC headquarters. The miles diminished rapidly, and when he got within 10 miles, he thought he had my SART [Search and Rescue Transponder] transmission on his radar. I had hoisted the SART up the mast on a halyard, and it worked impressively. To confirm it was me, I sent up a red parachute flare, and 10 minutes later I could see Newcastle's navigation lights bearing down on me.
Though conditions had eased somewhat, it would be far too dangerous for him to come alongside, so we agreed on a life-raft transfer. All my safety gear had been supplied by a company called Suffolk Sailing, and at my departure from England the boss, Graham Gardiner, said to me, "Unlike all your other sponsors, I hope you never have to use what I have given you." Well, I was about to disappoint him, I reflected.
I pulled on my all-in-one survival suit and life jacket and launched the raft over the lee rail, tying it to the yacht. Alan and I were now speaking on our waterproof handheld VHF radios and agreed on the procedure. He sailed past close to scope the scene out, and his yacht glowing in the moonlight was the best thing I had ever seen in my life. To speed Gartmore's sinking so she would not present a danger to any of the following fleet, I stopped the bilge pumps, which were now really lighting a losing battle, and stepped into the life raft. Still tethered by a long line to Gartmore, I drifted away in the breeze and the 10-foot sea that was running. Alan came in close, but just as he threw me a line, Gartmore surged on a wave and violently jerked the raft, threatening to capsize it. Ignoring Alan's line, I whipped out my knife and cut my umbilical cord to Gartmore, now drifting free while Alan jibed hack around out of sight. I stared at poor Gartmore as she labored, hull down. I felt incredibly lonely and sad and scared.
Alan's seamanship was superb, and I was soon tying his line on. Then he dragged me up to his wide-open transom. I scrambled on board, safe at last.
"Welcome aboard, mate," said Alan.