When Rambler's canting keel snapped off on the evening of Monday August 15th shortly after this mega-machine had rounded the Rock, she was powering at full speed towards the turning buoy, crashing into the lumpy seas which often arise where the steep land juts into the open ocean.
Kieran Cotter and the crew of the Baltimore lifeboat at the capize site. Photo: Thierry Martinez
The catastrophe was total and very sudden. The giant racer completely inverted every bit as quickly as the smallest of racing dinghies. The changeover, from being a highly tuned performer on track for success, into the inverted hell of exploding water, strangling ropes and jagged breaking gear, was at the least totally disorienting, and could have caused panic in less seasoned sailors.
The Lifeboat rescue from the upturned hull. Photo: Team Phaedo
Despite the difficulty of clambering onto the ultra-smooth underside of the huge hull, fifteen of the crew managed to get themselves up to the minimal handhold of the dagger board. But five of those who had been below – some of them off watch asleep – had drifted away from the boat after the monumental struggle of escaping from a small world turned upside down.
The five in the water roped themselves together, but things had taken an ominous turn, as the mist in which the big boat had rounded the Fastnet had now thickened into fog. For a crucial period, visibility was virtually nonexistent as other boat raced past nearby at high speed. And although some emergency radio beacons had automatically activated, the picture was confused with night drawing on.
Drifting crew are rescued. Photo: Team Phaedo
Time was of the essence – even in summer these waters can quickly induce hypothermia. Several agencies were now involved in the rescue, and skilled use of technology narrowed the search area, though in the sea conditions the stricken boat and crew were frequently invisible.
It was the Baltimore lifeboat with Kieran Cotter in command which was first on the scene. Taking off the crew was a challenge, but all fifteen on the upturned Rambler were safely rescued, though an impact between lifeboat and white hull resulted in a streak of lifeboat blue on the yacht which was to be immortalised as "Kieran's kiss".
But that was later, not until after a needle-in-a-haystack search found the other five adrift together in the water, with one already on the edge of coma. They were found by the lifeboat deputy mechanic Jerry Smith, on patrol with a Fastnet Race film crew in his dive boat Wave Chieftain. It was a miracle.
Next morning safely in Baltimore, the weather was already well improved. The previous night's conditions seemed like a nightmare. In calm summery conditions two days later, the Rambler hull was righted off Barley Cove and towed to Baltimore. She'll be restored to full racing trim by Cookson's in New Zealand, presumably with modifications to the design and specification for the canting keel. But that's another day's work. Today, we celebrate the achievement of Kieran Cotter and Jerry Smith, whose seamanship provided the successful focus for a network of rapid work by skilled technologists ashore.
Coverage of the rescue appears in Afloat's Rolex Fastnet Race page