Lucky escape for Rambler crew

Rambler (centre) and ICAP Leopard pass The Needles at the start of the 44th Fastnet Race on the Solent
Rambler (centre) and ICAP Leopard pass The Needles at the start of the 44th Fastnet Race on the Solent

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A survivor’s account of the capsize of the giant racing yacht Rambler 100 in last week’s Rolex Fastnet Race reveals that some of the crew were lucky to escape with their lives.

Other racing yachts passed near the supermaxi but failed to spot the wreck or her crew clinging to the upturned hull, and an Irish lifeboat alerted by the emergency beacons also initially failed to locate the survivors.

It is apparent that, had the crew been less prepared or equipped, or had the disaster taken place in darkness or further away from land, the death toll could have been high. In the event, however, all 21 crew were rescued, although some had spent more than two and a half hours in the water.

Rambler, which had been based in Gosport before the 608-mile race where she was visited by Portsmouth Lord Mayor Cheryl Buggy, had been leading the monohull fleet when she rounded the Fastnet Rock off Ireland’s south east coast late in the afternoon of Monday, August 15.

But moments after passing the iconic landmark, her huge keel and bulb sheared off and the 100-foot yachts turned turtle. Conditions were windy at around 24 knots, but not exceptional.

Crew Jan Dekker said: ‘There was a very loud noise on board. Within seconds it was clear that the keel had broken off as the boat started to heel more and more at an alarming rate.’

The vastly-experienced French-South African bowman Dekker, who has crewed on winning yachts in both the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup, said it was standard practice on board that the crew wore life jackets when the boat was reefed, and he had just come below after putting a reef in.

‘I right away shouted to the guys in their bunks to get out of the boat ASAP. I got out and ended up in the water as the boat by then was already on its side.’ said Dekker.

‘The boat seemed to be drifting away from us quite fast but, luckily, somebody had thrown a line over the side so we managed to swim towards it and pull ourselves near the boat .

‘It wasn’t easy. A few did not have life jackets on and were really struggling to stay on top of the water. One crew member in particular went quite far under water a few times. Jerry Kirby and I managed to hold him up and push him on to the boat. He wouldn’t have lasted much longer.’

Five of the crew, including skipper/ owner George David, had drifted away and were soon out of sight. The rest were now huddled on the upturned hull. Eventually spotted, the bulk of the crew were picked up by the Irish RNLI lifeboat. The five missing crew were plucked from the sea by a dive boat.

Dekker paid tribute to the lifeboat service as well as the hospitality of local people in Baltimore.

‘It was also second to none,’ he said.