The sea is a hard taskmaster !

Paul Huntley
Sun 24 Aug 2008 20:41

37:00.58N00:55.63W Sunday 24th August 2008.

You will note from our position that we have had to return to Portugal after an incident to the west of Cape St Vincent on Friday morning. Leaving Largos after refuelling and revitalising. We set off in high spirits on Friday morning at 09:45 setting a course of 240 degrees direct to Madeira, with a charted distance of 495 miles and an E.T.A of the evening Monday 25th August. In a freshening N/NW wind gusting 25kts we set reefed main and genoa on a beam reach great sailing at 7:5kts. By lunchtime we were clearing the traffic separation scheme to the west of Cape St Vincent with very large seas rolling from the north west at 3/4 mts and the tops breaking in a wind now gusting over 30kts. Nick went below to get some lunch and found it difficult to function with any safety. I had been resting on the leeward bunk in the saloon and went to the aft heads, after that things are a blur. It appears that I was thrown against a bulkhead or sink and knocked unconscious by the violent force of the motion. Nick and Jake said they heard a loud bang but thought it was a piece of kit moving. Sometime later I crawled to the companion way with a gash on the back of my head, bleeding profusely. I apparently climbed into the cockpit and sat down. Nick assessed my condition as being serious and decided to turn the boat around and return to Lagos for medical help. At this point I was not making much sense, but this is usual for me, I was repeatedly commenting on the sea conditions and was rambling. As I started to come round I realise I had been badly injured and assessed the situation myself as best I could. I put out a PAN PAN call to Horta Control (Coast Guard) and they responded immediately asking for our position of 36:33.63N 09:27.31W some 37 miles to the south west of Cape St Vincent. Nick and Jake furled the genoa and started the engine and set course of 060 deg to Lagos with Jake assisting. Horta control kept up a 30 min call to check on our progress and my condition. We could make 6kts to windward but had a very rough, wet and uncomfortable passage to the north east of more than 8 hours to Lagos. I am told that my condition deteriorated and was falling asleep in the cockpit, but Jake kept me awake! Thanks Jake. With position reports to make every 30 min, I had to concentrate. At about 10 miles off the Cape St Vincent, Horta Control requested that we make for Sagres ,I asked Jake to find this port in the pilot book and read the directions. It suggested that it was a fishing port and of not suitable for yachts, I expressed my concerns to Horta control and reconfirmed my intention of making for Lagos, They insisted that we should make for Sagres where an ambulance would be waiting for me. They told us they had launched the local lifeboat to show us the way in to port. We changed course to 025 and headed north. At 5 miles off, we were met by the lifeboat who wanted to transfer me directly and take me ashore, This was not an option , helming the boat in for the last 5 miles helped clear my head. The wind was now gusting 32 kts on the nose, with sea breaking over the boat. We entered the port of Baleeira and were instructed to go alongside a stone jetty with wind blowing us on. When alongside, people took our lines but despite our best efforts to fender the boat would have been seriously damaged had we stayed there. I ordered the crew to let go, went hard astern, to clear the jetty I discovered we had gained an extra crew man from the shore, I am not sure where he came from but he spoke as little English as I do Portuguese, he thought he had been press- ganged and would never see his family again. He did however show us a better berth alongside a flatter wall with tyres; not the best but, the only option available. All this time a crowd of onlookers and the Ambulance with blue lights flashing were chasing us around the docks. It was a bit like an Ealing comedy. After we had made fast, I was taken to the waiting ambulance and placed on a spinal board and my head and neck immobilised. Leaving Nick and Jake and Libertad was hard but I knew they would cope. They had been fantastic all the way back. I am sure it was more frightening for them, than me. wondering if the decisions I was having to make were correct. They are both safe and that is the main thing.

I had a very bumpy ambulance ride to the hospital  at Portimao and after 24 hours of X ray's ,scans, blood tests  a bed bath by two very nice nurses (there has to be an upside!) and lying on a trolley in the corridor, I decided I would be better of back on the boat. a taxi quoted 290 euros to Sagres so I made my way in bright sunshine, sea boots and Musto's to the bus station, catching the 18;15 to Lagos and the 19:40 to Sagres arriving at 21:00 back. Nick and Jake were in town eating, but soon returned to fill in the gaps in my memory which were and are still significant. Don't worry, I will get them to proof read this to ensure it is accurate.

Well, what now ?The hospital said that I should take things easy for a couple of weeks and not go to sea, this has caused us to change our plans again. We intend to move the boat to Lagos tomorrow as this port is unsuitable, we now intend to leave Libertad Lagos, Portimoa or Villamora for a few weeks whilst I recover. Jake will fly home having not quite made Las Palmas  and has to find a job , Nick will do the same (fly home that is), but intends to return for the leg to Las Palmas in October or November. I spoke to Bob this morning and broke the news to him that  he will have to cancel his flight to Madeira, sorry Bob. I am sitting at the chart table writing this blog , my appearance resembling that of Rabi minus the hat and hair (shaved in the hospital) with a large pad covering several stitches on the top of my head. That’s why I was attracting more stares than usual on the bus, Potugal is predominantly Catholic! That'all folks, I will keep you posted, and remember, worst things happen at sea! Best wishes from a slightly concussed Paul.