Richard Langdon / Team Phaedo

Rambler 100 capsize - part two

The accounts of the rescue boats and those on the upturned hull

Tuesday August 30th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Ireland

This article follows on from part 1 here

Being late in the day there was obvious concern for the five Rambler 100 crew in the water with the onset of night.

Their drift was taking them towards the Fastnet Rock and Joe Fanelli said that he had contemplated the possibility of their climbing on to the rock, but was sure if this occurred at night they would get bashed up in the process.

Finally, after just over two hours in the water, while they were 2-3 miles from the Rock, a helicopter flew over (with the Rolex photographer Carlo Borlenghi and cameraman Matt Connor aboard) and around 30 minutes later the Wave Chieftain, a dive boat chartered to the media team attached to Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66 Phaedo surfed down a wave close to them...after surviving for almost three hours in the water they had been saved.

One concern was how they would get on board a rescue boat, but fortunately the Wave Chieftain was fitted with a dive platform which simply scooped them up individually, without fuss, once with their numb fingers they had managed to extricate themselves from each other (earlier on they had themselves together to ensure they didn't separate). Wendy Touton was subsequently airlifted off into a helicopter, flown to hospital in Cork where she experienced a full recovery.

The five were fortunate that skipper of the Wave Chieftain was Gerry Smith, who is also second mechanic at the RNLI station in Baltimore, the Wave Chieftain being his own private boat. With Smith on board was well known photographer Richard Langdon and Rachel Jasperson, Marketing Director for Gunboat and Lloyd Thornburg's Gunboat 66 Phaedo. They had been at the Rock awaiting the arrival of their orange catamaran.

Getting out to the Fastnet Rock aboard the 35ft long diveboat had been heinous as it bashed its way through the short, sharp sea. During this time they were listening to the radio chat between Valentia coastguard, the lifeboat station in Baltimore and other parties, particularly Hugh Agnew, navigator on board ICAP Leopard, as the rescue services attempted to ascertain whether the EPIRB alert was a false alarm or not, who it was registered to and how a rescue should be carried out.

Wave Chieftain was called into action at the time (1846 GMT) that the Baltimore lifeboat had arrived at Rambler, to search for the five missing crew in the water. "A call was made to all ships in the area and we were the only one," recalls Langdon. "We had to go three miles upwind, SSW to where the PLB position was."

It took around half an hour to get upwind. Meanwhile the MRSC in Valentia had worked out a drift pattern for the five crew in the water, their calculations supplemented by information provided by the crew who were being transferred off Rambler's upturned hull. The drift estimate was 2.5 miles away on a bearing of 055°, although Langdon remembers the distance being substantially less than this.

"We got into that area and we started to see debris, sailbag, a rolled up sail. We found quite a few pieces," says Rachel Jaspersen. They saw a red sail bag in the water and were convinced it was them. Finally at 1931 GMT they caught sight of the missing crew, although in the steep sea they kept disappearing into the troughs. "We saw the red of the oilskins. The bladder of the lifejackets was yellow - the red was much more visible." With the Wave Chieftain in neutral, drifting side on to the waves and with Jerry Smith operating the dive platform on her transom, so by 1942 they were all on board. "George [David] was the first person on the line, but he wouldn’t get on to the boat until all the crew and Wendy were on board."

The most touching moment subsequently came when the Baltimore lifeboat, with the 16 crew, rescued from Rambler's upturned hull, on board, swung by the Wave Chieftain and the two parts of the crew could see they were all alive and safe.

Once the five in the water were on board all their vital signs were checked and much hugging went on in an attempt to warm them up. "We had spare jackets, so we gave them those," says Langdon. As it is important not to warm up hypothermics not too quickly they were given cold water first before hot tea and chocolate. "We checked everyone through," continues Jaspersen. "Lots of reassurance, keeping extremities warm, we had two towels which we wrapped around Wendy’s hands. We made the call with the skipper of the boat that we felt, if it was possible, that Wendy be airlifted off. Jerry coordinated the lift with the Coastguard. We talked constantly. Being a dive vessel there was oxygen on board, so we gave her some oxygen." Wendy Touton's body temperature is believed to have dropped to 86°F. At 1959 GMT she was airlifted off and taken to hospital. Wave Chieftain finally docked in Baltimore at around 2130.

Rambler project manager Mick Harvey greets Mike Mottl, one of the five in the water

Back to the boat

At 1846 GMT, around an hour before the five in the water were found, the Baltimore lifeboat finally reached the rest of the crew on Rambler 100’s upturned hull. They were obviously in a far better state than those in the water.

Following the capsize, once they had all been hauled out of the water on to the upturned hull, they had carried out a roll call and tapped on the hull to ensure that everyone had escaped. With the exception of the five that had drifted away - which they knew about - all were accounted for. Most were in their foulweather gear, but the few who had been sleeping below at the time of capsize were not and were getting cold. Huddling together, penguin-style, helped alleviate this.

As ICAP Leopard and the other boats that had been trailing them in the Rolex Fastnet Race passed by frustratingly close (within half a mile in the case of Leopard, the others more as the wind continued to clock right), those on the upturned hull were shouting, using their whistles, strobe lights and a flash light to attract their attention, albeit without success. Meanwhile Justin Clougher and Bob Wylie were at the back of the boat attempting to track the drift path of the five in the water – this was made easier when the lighthouse on the Fastnet Rock became visible to them.

Although they had the line between the rudder and daggerboard to hang on to, standing on the upturned hull wasn’t straightforward, as Peter Isler explained: “Because we had one side of water ballast in, she wasn’t floating flat in the water and there was a bit of shifting going on. It wasn’t 100% stable. At one point we had to scootch in unison to get to a new horizontal point. One little fear, was when we started to see smoke coming out of the holes in the hull. I haven’t heard from the boys whether it was just the engine finally seizing up and causing a lot of smoke or whether there was an electrical fire.” Due to her powered winches and canting keel, the engine normally runs non-stop on board Rambler 100. With the boat flipped the diesel engine continued to run for 15 minutes, presumably fast running out of water coolant and oil...

With night time approaching, the crew were contemplating making another attempt at getting the liferafts out. Inflating the liferaft would not only have offered more protection at night but was insurance if Rambler sank, plus the rafts contained vital safety gear, in particular flares. However as Peter Isler pointed out, with the boat inverted and the rafts not designed to be launched upside down, this task was verging on the hopeless.

Following the welcome arrival of the Baltimore lifeboat, within 25 minutes the crew had all been transferred off.

To the rescue

Baltimore RNLI lifeboat coming to their rescue was part coincidence. As a matter of course they usually go on exercise around the time the Rolex Fastnet Race is rounding the Fastnet Rock. On this occasion they also had an official RNLI photographer on board to get some shots. Like the Wave Chieftain they had also been in the vicinity of the Fastnet Rock when the alarm was raised.

“We received a message from the coastguard station in Valentia that an EPIRB had gone off 5 miles southwest of the Fastnet Rock,” described Kieran Cotter, Cox of the Baltimore lifeboat. “We proceeded to the area, but we couldn’t see anything. Visibility was poor maybe 0.5-1 miles. We searched around and we were getting information that one particular yacht hadn’t made any transmissions for about two hours. The coastguard was trying to call the yacht and they were getting no response first of all on VHF several times and at that stage they declared a PanPan. Then after a while they got their satellite phone numbers and tried calling those, but there was still no response and then they declared a MayDay.”

In the reduced visibility and with evening coming on rapidly, even the lifeboat crew had trouble spotting Rambler’s all-white upturned hull and only were attracted towards her finally when one of the crew saw a light. “We spotted a light about 0.5 miles away in the distance and proceeded towards it and there was an upturned yacht with 16 people sitting on it,” recounted Cotter. Initially they thought there was a photographer with a flash gun somehow out there.

Peter Isler provided the crew’s angle: “It was amazing – we were invisible. The lifeboat was 400m away there, they are searching and they don’t see us. So obviously a white boat with a grey paintjob on the bottom, even with a really long daggerboard sticking out and a couple of rudders and guys in red foul weather gear stranding up waving their arms, isn’t visible. We had some strobes and stuff, but they looked pretty anaemic in the light, as did the LED trim lights we have.”

Terra firma

The reception of the Rambler 100 crew in Baltimore could not have been more hospitable, many of the locals remembering the horrific 1979 Fastnet Race disaster. Upon their arrival in the seaside village at the southwesternmost tip of Ireland, the crew were checked out by paramedics, and then taken to the yacht club where they were provided with hot soup, dry clothes donated by the local community, and a welcome hot shower. The crew were subsequently offered the use of two houses to recover in.

As Mike Mottl put it: “It was the most amazing feeling. I am definitely bringing the family back here for a holiday.”

Andrew Taylor added: “The yacht club – they were fantastic. They have made us very welcome. They provided two houses. The heating was on and were comfortable. The whole support from the local community was just fantastic.”

Part 3 - Rambler capsize conclusion - here

Latest Comments

  • Ross Hobson 30/08/2011 - 14:20

    having been there done that - thank goodness everyone is safe. BUT why no orange on hull /foils? why was escape hatch avaiable? why were liferafts not placed to be deployed when inverted? these are basic multihull and IMOCA60 rules, which seem to have been lost 'in translation' Main thing everyone is safe

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