Monday, 2 February 2009

It's not the destination but the journey that makes life so unique!

Well we've been back home two months now and it's taken time to settle back into life on terra firma but I thought it only right that I share the full story of our last few days at sea. Since we've returned Ken tells me his missing "being on that darned boat" and the phone didn't stop ringing for a week with press, radio and TV all wanting interviews about our trip. Funny how time flies and it all seems so long ago now.

As you will recall we landed in Cape Verde on 7 January 2009, courtesy of a 200 thousand tonne cargo ship called the Maersk Varsberg.
In the lead up to the fateful day when the Maersk Varsberg crossed our path, we had once again been in tremendous rough seas, with the winds blowing against us and preventing us from rowing. Only a few days earlier we had made the tough decision to turn south and surrender to our failing solar panels. Without any possibility of recharging the equipment on board it would have been irresponsible and down right dangerous to continue on our voyage across the Atlantic to Antigua. In our hearts we knew we could still do it, we both had the mental and physical strength to continue and had we been twenty years younger without a care in the world we would have thrown caution to the wind and just gone for it. But with our family and friends back home, to continue without any communication for another forty days would have been darn right selfish. We had no lights, no radar, no VHF radio, no satellite phone and no desalinator. We were literally rowing in the dark in every sense, so we were making our way south to the Cape Verde Islands, where we planned to get new solar panels fitted and then to relaunch off to Barbados. We would be too far south to reach Antigua from Cape Verde, so Barbados it would be.

There we were in RITA being bashed, rocked and whipped by the 20 foot waves which showed no signs of abaiting. With the sea anchor out yet again there was nothing more to do but sit it out and wait for more favourable weather. We spent most of our time trying to keep dry, squashed up in the cabin. With no charge on the iPod we had no music, it was too rough to read and Ken and I were both feeling deflated so there was little to talk about. I remember just drifting in and out of sleep. Then suddenly I hear some choice words from Ken. The man who wakes for no one had by pure chance woken up for his tenth Snicker bar of the day and as he looked out through the hatch he saw a huge, and I mean huge, cargo ship heading straight for us.
We both jumped into action, there was no time to deliberate, the cargo ship was only hundreds of yards away and heading in our direction. Clearly with no radar from RITA they didn't know we were there and with the deep swell of the waves they just couldn't see us.

Ken grabbed a flare but as he tried to set it off it just fell apart in his massive Hell Boy hands. As he went for another I managed to catch the broken one and release it with a pair of pliers. Unfortunately the second flare was taken by the wind and flew off in the wrong direction. It had been some years since either Ken or I had set off flares (the last time for me was in the Royal Marines some 19 years ago) and I think we had both forgotten the shock you get from the force of the blast. The force was so powerful and violent that it took us both by surprise. Everything was happening so quickly, it felt like a frantic juggling act as we both tried to alert the cargo vessel. I grabbed another flare and this time it shot over the bow of the ship. They'd seen us at last and how I'll never know, considering the cumbersome size of the vessel and how close they were to us, but they managed to change course in the nick of time and avoid colliding with RITA.

The crew on the cargo ship decided to turn back to see if we were ok. It was a Turkish crew and they were on their way to Africa with tonnes of potatoes. They could see we were travelling nowhere in the high seas and they offered to help get us out of the bad weather. They were heading to Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands, not the island we were hoping for but they said they could tow us to calmer waters so we could continue our journey to Sal (the island where we were hoping to port and fix our solar panels).

It had been such a close call, thanking our lucky stars (I had seen eighteen shooting stars the night before and might have seen many more if the boat had hit us!!)) that Ken had seen the vessel when he did, we thought the sooner we could get ashore the better. Who knows the next passing vessel may not have seen us at all. It was dangerous to continue without power and hence no radar as a means of detection and no lights at night. So we agreed to some help from the Turkish crew of the Maersk Varsberg.

The crew shot a line towards our bow but the wind lifted it back over their boat, so they shot a second line which we tied to the bow of RITA. The plan was to extend this line with the 200m rope we had on board, so that we could be towed from a distance at a reduced speed. Unfortunately the Varsberg had returned to our leeward side and the waves were pushing us closer to her hull. Poor RITA was rapidly being drawn by the huge swell of the waves towards their boat. In what seemed like seconds we were being thrust against the side of the cargo ship. We tried to row away but the strength of the waves was too much and in no time the bow of RITA was split as it smashed against the metal hull of the cargo vessel. It felt like David and Goliath but this time Neptune was on the side of Goliath and we hit against the metal hull a second time. The beautifully crafted safety rail from Len Nevilles had kept in tact and strong but with the second brutish blow from Goliath there was no contest. The fist of Goliath smashed down hard and the metal buckled under the sheer force. Our dream was being shattered before our very eyes.

It all happened so quickly. With every swell of the waves RITA suffered another blow. The Captain of the Varsberg insisted that we abandon our vessel and climb on board. I tried to explain that I could not afford to just let RITA float away with all the equipment. My heart was sinking. I was desperate to retrieve what we could. We had no choice. We couldn't stay on RITA but I insisted we at least take the desalinator with us. It had been loaned by Jim MacDonald at Mactra and he had already agreed to loan it to another rowing crew on our return. The Captain refused to allow us both back onto RITA and since I had suffered a shoulder injury in the transfer between the two boats, he sent Ken back down. Hell Boy did his stuff and managed to get the desalinator and a few personal belongings. It was no mean feat as the waves continued to bash RITA and the holes in her sides grew bigger. The desalinator had been well secured so it was no easy task releasing it.

We were safe but RITA was cut loose and floated out to sea. In no time she was just a small speck on the ocean. Hopefully she wouldn't be lost forever. Wherever she would go I hoped she might bring some joy to whoever found her. Maybe someone less fortunate than myself would find her. I was devastated. Years of work and dedication floating away, an emotional time as once again RITA was taken.

The crew of the Varsberg took good care of us, providing us with a cabin, fresh towels, food and drink. They even gave me a pair of secondhand sandals as I had no footwear and just the T-shirt and shorts I stood up in. I had been physically injured but I did not feel that pain. The pain was from my shattered dream. I knew in time I would bounce back, but right then on that boat watching RITA disappear into the horizon, my heart felt wrenched from my body and I was empty inside. Who knows where my next journey will take me and what adventures lie ahead. Despite our tremendous disappointment it had been an experience of a lifetime and one that both Ken and I will reminisce about for years to come. "It's not the destination but the journey that makes life so unique" and it was certainly one hell of a journey.

Thanks again to everyone who supported us, friends family, loved ones and of course our sponsors. I'm sorry that not every sponsor got a mention in my daily blog. It was my intention to pepper the blog with special thanks throughout the journey but with the trip cut short, few were mentioned. Needless to say I am truly grateful for your support.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Enterprising Emerson - Friday 9 January 2009

Emerson, Emerson what an enterprising fella!

We both had a bit of a restless night, understandable I guess with all that has happened! We watched Entrapment for a bit of escapism before hitting the sack, hoping it might distract our thoughts from the great loss of RITA. My mind is all over the place at the moment, just cannot believe the continuous run of bad luck. It just feels like nothing went right for us but I do know we are very lucky that we are here to tell the tale. If the Maersk Varsberg had crossed us during the night we wouldn't have stood a chance and they would have gone straight over us not knowing a thing. Moreover if Ken had not woken up when he did, (the man that can sleep for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) it might also have been goodnight Vienna!
The loss feels immeasurable. I'm gutted. I was so looking forward to continuing the challenge from Cape Verde. I knew that once we had the new Solar Panels sorted and we were far enough south, with the weather on our side, things could only get better. Ken and I had had a pretty tough start but having battled through the past twenty odd days the next thirty-five or more would be easier. We'd both had a massive experience in such a short time. I certainly learnt a lot from Ken and his knowledge of the seas and we had worked well as a team (even if he did eat all the Snicker bars).

So here we are in Sao Vicente and we've been befriended by Emerson. On the day we docked we were immediately escorted to a room on the ship and interviewed by the police. This was followed by an introduction to Emerson, a local fella it seemed with his fingers in lots of pies. It was like having our own personal tourist guide and advisor. He turned out to be far more helpful than the British Consul, even if the taxi driver, the travel agent, hotelier and restauranteur turned out to be his good friends! Hey it's not what you know but who you know!

Having sorted our accommodation he was there to greet us in the morning to take us to the travel agent. Getting home to ol' Blighty was our priority now! How much???? You're having a larf! The tickets home near on a thousand pounds each and no direct flights. I could see it was going to be another eventful journey. The adventure was far from over.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Thursday 8 January - British Consul

Had to set off early today to sort out our documents and administration with the British Consul in Cape Verde. We managed to get some accommodation last night (not unlike the frugal apartment where we stayed in La Gomera with squeaky old iron beds!) but we're running on empty in every way. Ken has £24 on him and we managed to get some cash last night with our cards but have no idea of the exchange rate.
I'm without any decent clothes and feeling like an orphan in these second hand shoes but hopefully I can get some things together before we fly.

Understandably we have been treated a bit like suspected criminals and illegal immigrants, arriving as we did in this foreign land! We've been checked for drugs and had to fill out numerous forms but we know it's all just a necessary formality. It's hassle we could do without, just want to be on that flight home now.

My shoulder is in a pretty bad way but we are both doing fine. Thanks for all your good wishes and support.
Ken & Aldo

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Tuesday 6 January - Lucky to be alive!

Just to let everyone know that we had a very close call with a massive cargo vessel but we are fine.

Once again the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we were unable to row. Late Tuesday afternoon we were both in the cabin, feeling rather bored and frustrated when just by chance Ken looked out to see a huge cargo vessel heading straight for us, only hundreds of yards away.
Immediately we sprang into action and set off the flares to raise the alarm. The first flare didn't work but luckily the second one did and fortunately the turkish crew of the big vessel spotted us just in time to change it's direction and a major collision was (at first) avoided.

Unfortunately the day finished catastrophically for RITA. During the events that ensued poor RITA got wrecked and we boarded the cargo vessel to be taken ashore to Cape Verde. We are devastated but thank God we are alive.

Wednesday 7 January 2200 GMT
We had an horrendous 24 hour journey on the Maersk Varsberg with the wind blowing at 32 knots and 25 foot waves, both of us were extremely sea sick, but we are now finally in Sao Vicente and hope we will be boarding the next available flight home. The turkish crew on the cargo vessel were fantastic. They even gave me a pair of old shoes to wear as I have none of my own.

I am devastated beyond words but I know it could have been a very different story!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Sunday 4 Jan - just finished giving our thanks to God!

Morning all,
Just a quickie as Solar panels still not charging but we are doing fine, in good spirits and making good headway to Cape Verde. I'm confident we can resolve technical problems once ashore and so the journey wont be ending yet!

It seems God has answered our prayers. Thanks everyone for your text messages and support, they are so very valuable. Keep them coming as it seems receiving them does not drain too much power and now we are on the home stretch (well mini-stopover) to Cape Verde we can make a better assessment of how much power we can manage on. Hopefully be there in 5 days with VHF ready to alert local coastguard. These coastguard guys in Falmouth are amazing, doing a fantastic job, great to know you're there behind us so at least it wont come as a surprise to the locals to see two foreign nuggets in a row boat in Cape Verde waters. How's your portuguese Ken? Que? Wadda u want?

Sun is out again today and it's gonna be another HOT one. Latest coordinates, little pink number with frills and white....oops only kidding, Ken hasn't really dressed for church!

At 1015 GMT N20 35.685 W21 21.897, how we doin on the map Pete?

Hmm better get that suncream on. Be back soon. Miss you all but really getting into it now so fingers crossed all goes well from Cape Verde. RITA is still going to the Caribbean, yippeee!

Aldo & Ken xxxxx

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Saturday 4 January 2009 - sunnier climes, sunnier spirits!

Hi everyone,
Sorry we've been incommunicado but really on very low battery and still no power from Solar Panels!! Thankfully the weather has improved and we are heading south to Cape Verde. Sunbathing weather today - bloomin' hot so have slapped on the old sun cream. Thanks to P20 for providing this.

It's still very blustery but the waves are good and we're feeling human again with all guns blazing. We reckon we should be in Cape Verde in 6 days so fingers crossed. Hope to get the technical issue resolved once we're there.

Coordinates today at 1400 GMT N21 10 166 W 21 17 758. Once again thanks to Pete and Mo for keeping a track of our route on the web.

Not much more to add and need to keep it short to save valuable battery energy, but we're happy chappies now we know we can reach our mid-point destination.

Best wishes to everyone and belated birthday wishes to Robbie, sorry fella these come a little late, but you know, Aldo style!! Hope you had a great birthday.

Ken & Aldo