I caught up with Anthony at the recent company BBQ and asked him to go back in time and recap for us how he was rescued from the Atlantic and share with me his thoughts about trying the venture again. With tin in hand he told me…
“Things were progressing well. We had rowed for over 660 miles and had covered a quarter of the journey but then along came Imogen. Not Bishopsgate’s Imogen but the remnants of Storm Imogen that had managed to find its way this far south. The waves were as big as you can imagine and we were just being tossed about in our boat like cats in a washing machine. We had no control of the boat whatsoever” He added, “It was very claustrophobic. The boat’s cabin was really designed for one…but there were two of us in there. We had to keep the cabin closed to stop the water getting in but we had to open it to allow us to breathe because the air hole wasn’t really designed to cope with these conditions, with the inevitable consequences. It was pretty rough all ways round”
Anthony and James, his partner for the journey, dropped the sea anchor and rang the Falmouth coastguards to see how long it would last. Two days and the winds are going to get worse was not the answer for which they were hoping. After 20 hours, with Anthony suffering concussion, they finally called for the cavalry, who appeared over the horizon the next morning, in the eclectic shape of a Greek dry cargo ship crewed entirely by Chinese. The skipper, described as “brilliant” by Anthony, had many things on his CV but hitherto had never effected a rescue in 60ft swells.
In enormous seas a big ship trying to pluck two men from a small rowing boat can be almost more dangerous than sitting out the storm. But the captain took the ship to windward to give them a modicum of protection and slung them ropes.
“It was the best experience ever being plucked from that boat. I can remember it vividly. One second I was in the trough of a wave inspecting the ship’s hull below the plimsoll line, the next on its crest at deck level, where a crew of boiler-suited Chinese sailors were lining up to take photos of us before we disappeared from view again”
Eventually a rope ladder was dangled, tantalisingly. Tied to his own boat, Ward Thomas missed his first grab. But with his umbilical cord cut, he effectively had one chance to jump and grab. Miss it and it would have been goodnight and thank you. Of course he would not be here to tell the story had he not taken it. “The pain of rope burn is the most comforting feeling you’ll ever have,” he explained. “That precarious rescue still wakes me up in the night.” As he lay on the deck of the ship, one of the Chinese sailors lit a cigarette and offered it to him. “I don’t smoke but thought, Why not? His smile will stay with me for a long time.”
Anthony & James were not alone in being beaten by Imogen and the sea that week. A crew of four British women rowers were rescued, and seven of a crew of eight were plucked from their capsized boat after a 21-yearold rower had been lost overboard.
But the story doesn’t end there. As they exited the boat they took the clothes that they were wearing and their passports but left the boat complete with telephones, lap tops and radios that is still bobbing about in the mid-Atlantic like the Mary Celeste today. While the tracker was still working, even a tug that was sent to pick it up from Cape Verde had to turn back after 200 miles, so high were the seas. It should make the Caribbean one day so watch this space for a further update
“Will you try it again Anthony?” I asked. “Never” came his very swift reply. “It was tough out there mentally, can I say that it was boring even when the weather was good. But it remains hugely disappointing given our initial hopes and aspirations, but I’m very happy to live with that sentiment. We did manage to raise over £50,000 for the charity which was fantastic”