Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Day five - RITA goes missing -16th December - David's birthday and it wasn't the smoke from the candles on the cake that kept us awake!!

Well what a 24 hours it has been. We've been thrown about for what feels like months rather than days. There's no respite from the pounding waves. At night it feels like huge whales are in a plot to overturn the boat by thrusting up against Rita. Driving up under her keel. Pushing this way and that, spinning us in every direction. Rising and falling like an extreme roller coaster ride at Chessington but worse and no chance to get off.
After surviving another SWELL day at sea with no decent food or hot drinks we try to rest in the cabin, but that good old fireman snout detects a bit of burning in the air. It's just gone midnight. We've seen a galaxy in the sky and we're praying the weather improves.
It's no good, I can definitely smell something smouldering, so I put my head out the cabin to check. Would you believe it the electrics have seized on the tracker beacon. Luckily I sniffed it out, it could have been disasterous if it had caught fire whilst we were trying to rest in the cabin. We try to settle again, squeezed in to the airless cabin, exhausted, hungry and drained. Please God the weather improves.

Early morning the weather has improved a little and we feel confident it's time to get back in the rowing seat. Little did we know that our technical problem had sent alarm bells ringing back ashore. No tracking signal raised all kinds of questions. Just after sunrise Falmouth coastguard calls home to notify that our tracking poll was lost three minutes after midnight and that two vessels have been sent to find RITA. Has the beacon been switched off? Has RITA capsized? Has the boat lost all power? How's Ken and Aldo, are they fighting to survive? Are they in the boat or floating out at sea? Every scenario imaginable is lived through as the mystery unfolds.
8.30am and still no news from RITA or the two vessels in search. Last reading showed RITA about 40 miles off the Canaries and moving quite quickly. What did this mean?
9.30 still no news or contact. Several messages sent by iridium phone to try to get contact but no replies.
11.00 EPIRB has not been set off so there's every reason to believe that these two ex- bootnecks are alive and well and still fighting the elements as only they know how. Steely determination not to be beaten!
12.30 - it's now been 12 hours but still no news. The alarm is elevated to the next level and a search team are despatched by the spanish coastguard - helicopter, plane and tug boat go off in search but the weather and swell is still so bad that it's going to be difficult for anyone to spot little RITA on the waves. The wind is blowing at 40 knots, by this time RITA may have travelled a long way from the last tracking point, so it could take many hours to search the area and it will have to be called off as the dark night draws in.
13.22 call from Falmouth- they managed to get through on satellite phone and discover that all is fine, just the technical glitch that now means nobody can track us.
HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF BACK HOME and joy that the adventure has not come to an abrupt end in such a short space in time. Tears of relief and elation that put every day worries into true perspective.

I chat to Dawn who managed to get through on the Sat phone and all is well. The water is still very choppy so I struggle to keep the phone from getting wet. Well it's a great excuse to end the call!! only teasing. She says the weather is due to get better and that we've done well to get away from the islands considering the rough seas. Sailing trips had been called off in the last 24 hours from La Gomera due to the extreme weather and we couldn't have had a worse start. I can hear the utter relief in her voice that we've finally made contact and the mystery of RITA's disappearance is resolved.

We're back into our shift of two hours on/off rowing and I'm next. Bloomin' 'eck how does anyone row these darn vessels? It's gonna be a long journey but I'm sure I will have developed a better technique by the time we get to Antigua. Hey first cuppa of the trip and it tastes wonderful. "Get the burger and chips on Ken, any ketchup with that?"

We seem to have adopted a little friend. Not sure if it's a Pectoral (isn't that a muscle?) or an Atlantic Tern (ok a bloomin' seagull) either way he's become our mascot, flying and swooping above us, squawking at me to get a move on.

Ahah, the bright orange rescue boat has arrived and is demanding we are rescued, but we ain't having any of that. We're fine mate, no rescue required. Final score of the day RITA 1 - Antonio 0.
Last reading of the day fed back to ol' blighty at 21.15 on 16 Dec 2008 N27 07 060, W16 19 718. Gotta go, my turn on the oars.......keep tuning in.....

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