There has been a certain amount of negative comment about my rescue by the US Coast Guard. Most of these comments have been based on a misconception of what actually happened, and so I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
First, I did not call the Coast Guard, nor did any member of my team. The Coast Guard was called in by a wellwisher who was concerned about me. I did not authorise or even know that this had happened - the first I knew of it was when the USCG plane appeared overhead and hailed me on my VHF radio.
Once the USCG had been made aware, events took on their own momentum. The USCG made it clear that they were concerned about my welfare, and that they felt it would be best for me to agree to an evacuation. It was only with the greatest reluctance that I eventually agreed after several hours of stating that I was not in need of assistance.
Second, before I embarked I had taken out an insurance policy with the company Global Rescue, who specialise in medical evacuations from inaccessible locations.
One of my team members had extensive discussions with Global Rescue about what would happen in the event of an emergency while I was on the ocean, and we had clearly defined procedures governing what should happen in the event of a crisis. Unfortunately, once the USCG became involved, these procedures were no longer applicable - it would have been inappropriate to call for Global Rescue when the USCG was already on the scene.
I had taken out this private insurance policy with the specific intention of avoiding cost to the US taxpayer.
Third, I was not "ill-prepared." I successfully rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in this same boat, which took me 103 days. The safety standards in the Atlantic Rowing Race are extremely high. In preparing for the Pacific, my standards were even more rigorous, and informed by the lessons I learned during the Atlantic crossing. Many months of careful preparation preceded my Pacific bid. Click here to see the full inventory of safety equipment I had on board, as documented on this website.
I hope this clarifies the situation.
Once again, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the men and women of the USCG who picked me up from my boat and took care of me once I got to dry land. I admire their courage, their professionalism, and their commitment to public service. America can be justifiably proud of her Coast Guard and the magnificent service they provide.
After rowing the Atlantic as a competitor in a race, I was very much enjoying my Pacific row without the added pressure of a race situation. And yet now I find myself once again pitted against the clock.
The area of the ocean where the Brocade is drifting is still beset by high winds and waves. If we are to do repairs on the water, the calmest day in the foreseeable future is this coming Wednesday, 29th August. The seas will still be 6-8 feet, but this is the best we can expect.
But as yet we have no vessel capable of taking us over 100 miles offshore to go in search of the Brocade. Ideally, I am looking for a craft about 100 feet long with a crane, so we can hoist the Brocade onboard and do the repairs there, giving us a marginally more stable platform than simply climbing aboard Brocade to do the work. We have put out many lines of enquiry, and hope that at least one of them might come good.
But time is running out. In order to travel that far from shore and find the Brocade before 0600 on Wednesday morning, we need to set out on Tuesday morning - just 36 hours from now.
Today I travelled back to the Bay Area in readiness for the recovery operation. Tomorrow will be spent dashing around trying to secure sea anchors, containers for additional water ballast, a new survival suit, replacements for various items that have been broken or lost, as well as the ongoing pursuit of a suitable salvage vessel. Friends and team members have been mobilised to help, and are rallying to the cause.
We are racing against time not only to catch the weather window, but also to get to the Brocade before anybody else does. If I am to keep alive my dream of rowing to Hawaii this year, we need to make the repairs out on the water. To bring her back to land would take too long and blow my chances of getting to Hawaii before the winter storms. So we need to get to her before anybody attempts to tow her in.
But at the same time it is of paramount importance to make sure that she is safe and capsize-resistant before I continue. Everything is in the balance, and the clock is ticking....
P.S. More than ever I am indebted to friends old and new for their assistance. On Thursday night I arrived on shore with no clothes but a t-shirt and shorts, no money, and no ID. Without the kindness of strangers I would be hungry, almost naked, and marooned in Eureka. From the bottom of my heart I thank these good Samaritans for their kindness, hospitality and generosity.
Thanks also to all those who have sent messages of support and encouragement by email and via this website. Your words have given me enormous strength in these testing times.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to the many people who have played such significant roles in my life over the last 48 hours:
- the crew of the USCG helicopter - pilot Stephen Baxter, flight mechanic Jason Bauer, flight commander Kevin Winters and rescue swimmer Chuck Wolfe
- Clint and the crew of the USCG airplane
- the captain and crew of the Overseas Long Beach
- the staff at USCG Humboldt Bay
- my support team:
- and of course my poor, long-suffering mother, Rita Savage.
Also to David Helvarg at Blue Frontier Campaign, and CEO Michael Klayko and all the staff at Brocade for their continued support.
Thanks also to the new friends I have made in Eureka - Rich, Marilyn, Ken and Jack, for their hospitality, support, food and clothing.
I am aware that recent events have evoked a large number of comments. I had the strange experience of sitting in a coffee shop in Eureka today and overhearing people discussing the front page news - me.
Most of the comments to this site have been positive and supportive - and for that I thank you.
As to the naysayers, rather than responding in words I will allow my actions to speak. For now, know that your words only fuel my determination to do this and to do it right. And so I thank you too.
[photo: me with the crew of the USCG helicopter. L to R: Kevin Winters, Chuck Wolfe, me, Stephen Baxter]
24 Aug 2007, USCG Humboldt Bay, Northern California
Thanks all the people who have been in touch to express concern for my safety. I can assure you that I am absolutely fine, and am making plans to return to the Brocade as soon as possible. More of that later, but first I would like to present the 'authorised' version of yesterday's events, plus the link to the YouTube video...
A powerful wave rear-ended my boat. I shot down my bunk, my sleeping bag tobogganning over the slippery vinyl of the mattress. I came to an abrupt halt when my skull collided with the wall at the end of the cabin.
I sat up. Blood trickled down my face. I explored the damage with my fingers. It didn't seem too bad. I dabbed the blood away with a flannel and lay back down on my bunk to try and sleep, although it wasn't easy to do more than doze as my boat lurched around on the high seas.
This was Wednesday night. The night before, Tuesday, I had capsized twice. The first time the Brocade rolled right over until she was upside down in the water. I lay flattened on the roof of my cabin, while all around me belongings escaped from their straps and slid around the curved walls of the cabin like garments in a washing machine. For what felt a long time the Brocade remained inverted. I held my breath, willing her to turn. At last she slowly started to self-right, and my belongings and I returned to the floor of the cabin - but in a very different arrangement from how we had started out. The cabin was a mess, with the majority of the objects piled up on top of my legs and feet.
I moved enough things aside so I could get out of my sleeping bag to check the status on the darkened deck. As I opened the hatch the wind was blowing strongly and spray was flying through the air. I clipped into my waiststrap so that if another destructive wave came along I wouldn't be parted from the Brocade. It didn't look too bad out here, considering what had just happened. I unfastened the cockpit bags from their fixings and stowed them in a hatch, just to be on the safe side. A huge wave crashed over the side of the boat, drenching me in cold seawater.
Soaked, I returned to my cabin and tried to get warm again inside my sleeping bag. I strapped myself down to the bunk using the straps secured to the cabin floor, hoping this would stop me ending up on the ceiling if I should roll again.
Two hours later the second capsize came. The restraining straps ripped out of their fixings on the floor and once again I was on the ceiling.
This time when I went out on deck the bags containing the various sections of the sea anchor had escaped their ties. The sea anchor - of course. That would help. I deployed the large parachute over the side of the boat and gradually she turned so that her bows pointed into the waves. Instead of sideswiping the Brocade, the waves now pushed past her sides so that she pitched more forward-and-back rather than side to side. This should reduce the risk of capsize, I hoped. I returned to my bunk.
The next day was rough, but nothing worse than I had seen on the Atlantic. The safest place was in the cabin, so I spent most of the day below, trying to stay as warm and dry as I could while the waves raged around the Brocade. It wasn't easy - the cabin was increasingly wet and unpleasant - both my hatches had leaked slightly while they were submerged, so everything was damp. I was glad of the waterproof casing on my sleeping bag.
I made a list of the damage. The GPS chartplotter wasn't working - the screen came on but it wasn't managing to fix my position, so the connection to the satellite antenna must have come adrift. One of the masts on the roof of my cabin, supporting various antenna and aerials, had come adrift and was swinging forlornly. The navigation light wouldn't come on, and the raillight was full of water. My seed sprouter had vanished overboard. Wilson's head was hanging at a strange angle, as if he had a crick in his neck.
I spoke to my weatherman at regular intervals throughout the day. The prospect was not appealing - at least another 60 hours of these rough conditions, gale force winds and seas of 8-11 feet - but I was still determined that I could hang in there.
The second night of the gale arrived. After the rear-ending wave I tried to get back to sleep, but a little later the boat capsized again, for the third time in 24 hours. My head cracked against the cabin ceiling and again I felt the trickle of blood.
But how had this happened? The sea anchor was out so the Brocade should have been facing into the waves. On deck the truth became clear - the main line to the sea anchor was severed just 6 feet from the point where it attached to the boat. I pulled in the backup line to the sea anchor, the tripline. But that, too, came to a premature end, at the first of the two flotation buoys. My brand new sea anchor was gone.
This was bad news. Now I had no defence against further capsizes. I deployed a pair of small drogues, but they didn't seem to make enough difference.
I reckoned I could still tough it out. Tori Murden had capsized something like 12 times in 15 hours when she was attempting to become the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. That was my benchmark, and things were still a long way short of being that bad.
But that afternoon the decision started to be taken away from me. A small plane flying overhead announced itself to be from the US Coast Guard, and told me that a 660 foot ship, the Overseas Long Beach was going to bring me a sea anchor. This was welcome news. Less welcome was the news that USCG Control wanted to talk with me "to discuss the viability of your voyage". The USCG ship Dorado was on its way, ETA sunset. I had not contacted the coastguard, but it seemed they were now aware of my situation and were concerned.
In my mind, the voyage was still totally viable. I still had my oars and my rowing seat, as far as I knew my watermaker was still working, and apart from a couple of dings and dents to the cranium I was fine. I trusted completely the seaworthiness of the Brocade and I felt that the risk of death was extremely small while I stayed with her.
But the weather was going to get even worse over the next 48 hours, according to the USCG. They told me that I was already right on the outer edge of the range of their helicopters, and later on in the afternoon I would learn that the 82 foot USCG vessel Dorado had turned back because the conditions were too bad. If I was going to require assistance to survive this storm, I was running out of options. I would soon be beyond the range of land-based help.
I was distracted from further thoughts at that point because the Overseas Long Beach arrived. I was surprised to see how the huge ship wallowed in the heavy seas. Waves crashed around her bows, looming like cliffs from the water. The ship came as close as they dared without swamping me, but despite repeated attempts we were unable to get the line from them to me so that I could receive the sea anchor. At last, on about the seventh attempt, I managed to fish the line out of the water and hauled what seemed like about 500 feet of line on board. At the end was a small sea drogue. It wasn't as large as the 12-foot para-anchor I had lost, but maybe it would work.
It took about an hour to disentangle the lines and eventually I managed to deploy the anchor. I watched anxiously to see if the Brocade would pivot around to lie bow-on to the waves. At first I thought it had worked - the Brocade turned through 90 degrees - but then she carried on turning until she had done a full 180, so I was still sideways to the waves, just the other way around. Sideways was not where I wanted to be. This was where I was vulnerable to capsize.
I felt suddenly exhausted. I had barely slept for two nights, I hadn't been eating much, my appetite affected by the constant movement of the boat. I had spent hours on deck trying to get hold of this sea anchor, and now it didn't seem to be working. The prospect of another dark night of capsizes loomed.
Right then the US Coast Guard called back. "We need a decision, right now," they said. "By tomorrow you will be out of range of a helicopter rescue, and we can't get a boat out to you in these conditions. The weather is going to deteriorate, and we are very concerned about you." I begged for 5 minutes to consider my options.
After talking to my weather man I realised that this decision was going to have to be mine and mine alone. It was a toughie.
On the one hand, I pride myself on being fiercely independent, and on not quitting when the going gets tough. On the other hand, the safety of the Brocade was now somewhat compromised with the loss of my sea anchor and the broken bunk straps. I still had at least 2 months more out on the ocean, and wanted to be ready for whatever the weather may choose to throw at me in the future. I was being offered an opportunity here to pause and make my boat properly ocean-ready before continuing. It went against my instincts, but it seemed to be the sensible thing to do.
I rang them back. "OK, let's do it," I said. "Come and get me."
As soon as I rang off I started to cry. This wasn't how I had wanted things to be. But the decision had been made. After a couple of minutes I pulled myself together and started to make ready for evacuation. I put all my most important pieces of technology into a single Pelican case, and put on my immersion suit and lifejacket.
About an hour later the USCG helicopter appeared overhead. Via the VHF radio they told me what to do. When I saw their man being lowered into the water on the winch, I was to jump into the sea. Then they would attach me to the winch and pull me up into the helicopter.
Looking at the ever-roughening seas, the rescue seemed more terrifying than staying on board, but I attached the Pelican case to my waiststrap and made ready to abandon ship. Once the swimmer was in the water I slid awkwardly over the side, around the end of the oars, into the water.
The Pelican case dragged me down and the oversized immersion suit flapped at my feet. I wallowed over to my orange-clad rescuer. The Brocade seemed to want to follow me - the wind was blowing her almost over the top of me - so I had to swim clear of her path. The Coastie grabbed me and manoeuvered me onto the winch. Seawater splashed over my head as we waited for the helicopter to rise. After what felt like a long time the line went taut and we were being lifted clear of the water.
I looked down at the Brocade. From being my whole world for the last 10 days she now looked so small and forlorn amidst the foaming white waves. I felt awful for abandoning her. This didn't seem right.
"You can always get another boat," said the Coastie, trying to cheer me up.
I was aghast. "No, I'm coming back for this one," I declared, and already I meant it. "And soon."
Click here for the link to the video of the rescue:
P.S. I have heard via the USCG that some "salvage operators" have already shown an interest in retrieving the Brocade. I am not sure, under the laws of the sea, what the situation is. All I can do is to issue this plea:
Please, please, do not touch my boat. I intend to return to her just as soon as the weather calms down. I will make a few running repairs to restore her to a safe condition and continue on my way. I hope that this rescue mission will happen in the next two to three days.
I intend to carry on, preferably from where I left off, but failing that, then from wherever the Brocade has drifted to between now and then. This plan would be utterly thwarted if anybody has moved her or interfered with her in the meantime.
Please respect my wishes and leave her alone until I return.