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Halcrow – ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’

Andrew Halcrow 'I am safe and I owe the Chilean Armada a huge thank you for that' - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

SHETLAND yachtsman Andrew Halcrow is already looking into recovering his yacht from the south Pacific after having been put in touch with “the right people” in Punta Arenas.

The 54 year old had to be airlifted from the Elsi Arrub off the Chilean coast on Sunday after the mast of the 31-foot yacht snapped in a huge storm the day before.

It is the second time that Halcrow, from Hamnavoe in Burra, has had to give up an attempt to singlehandedly circumnavigate the globe.

Halcrow said he had been put in touch with local man Sergio Andrade Barrientos, a friend of Shetland councillor and wildlife tour operator Jonathan Wills.

“I’ve now met up with him and he is being a great help. He has a lot of contacts here and is doing his best to help.

“The port authorities here have issued a general message to all vessels in the area to keep a look out for Elsi.

“On Monday we met a fisherman friend of his (Barrientos) who works on the west coast and today (Tuesday) we have spoken to several more people, some with boats available for charter to tow her if she is spotted.

“Even with boats available the biggest problem is finding Elsi in the first place. There is no EPIRB or any kind of locating beacon on board. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

His yacht was 80 nautical miles off the coast of Chile when he was airlifted, and with the prevailing winds and currents she might well have drifted ashore already.

“The best I can hope for is that she might have drifted in through a gap between some islands and has landed up somewhere that she hasn’t got too much damage.

“I don’t feel the same confidence I felt in 2006 [when his drifting yacht was found]. This is a far more dangerous coastline with powerful onshore winds. It really is a remote part of the world with few harbours and safe havens,” he said.

In his blog at www.elsiarrub.co.uk Halcrow also recalled the dramatic events on Saturday morning, when his yacht was dis-masted while he spent the night strapped in a lee cloth preventing him from rolling off his bunk.

“We had been hit twelve hours before, on Friday night, by a massive wave, which threw us over. It’s possible the shock load from that maybe weakened the mast.

“It was so brutal that at first I was sure a ship had rammed into us. If you had been in a car you would have thought a truck had slammed into you.

“On the Saturday morning I was either sleeping or dozing when the wave hit us. The first thing I knew was that we were thrown over on our side with a huge crash.

“Then I heard a horrible creaking sound coming from on deck somewhere. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I had to go up and check it out. I pulled on oilskins and looked out the door.

“The boom was lying down on the aft guardrail. My first thought was that the topping lift, which held up the boom, had gone. But the sail should still have stayed up even if the topping lift had gone.

“I turned and looked forward. And there was no mast, well there was but what was left of it was lying in a mangled heap over the port bow. I could not believe it; I simply could not believe it.”

Shetland couple Dennis and Lynn Bolt have just sent in this photo, taken in Madeira last week, a timely reminder of Andrew and Terry Halcrow's round the globe voyage.

Halcrow said he never would have expected that the mast could go, adding that it was so well rigged he believed it could stand up to almost everything.

“I had huge confidence in it and it was one of the things I never worried about because it had so many bits of wire holding it up.

“We did have bad weather at the time of the breakage but it hadn’t come to the point where I was seriously worried for the mast.”

He then had to scramble on board get the mast clear of the hull to prevent it from punching a hole in the side, a treacherous job in a gale with huge seas.

“There were seventeen wires to let go. The starboard shrouds, the ones now running across the deck, were taking almost all the weight.

“I began by cutting the HF antenna with the hacksaw and then pulled out the pins that joined the rigging screws to the backstays and slipped them loose.

“I still didn’t know what had caused the mast to go and thought it might have been one of the rigging wires.

“So, before letting go any of the rigging I pulled the wires to see if any were completely slack. None were, as it turned out. All the rigging had held ok.

“It was still blowing between 30 to 40kts and the seas were still around five metres, confused and breaking, so it wasn’t a very stable platform to work on.

“I suppose it was cold and wet and I got soaked with spray, but I never felt it,” he said.

“In different scenarios I had imagined rigging a jury mast, maybe using the spinnaker pole and setting a sail on that. But in these conditions it would be impossible. This was the wrong place to try it.

“There was no VHF as the VHF antenna had been on the mast and I didn’t have a spare. So I couldn’t call to see if there were any ships in the area.

“We couldn’t just sit here and drift. There was no engine so we couldn’t motor anywhere. There weren’t really many options. I took the only sensible option and called Falmouth Coastguard on the satphone.

“They took all the details and passed them on to the Chilean Coastguard, the military run Armada. In time I spoke to Comandante Montez in Punta Arenas and he was my link with the Chilean side of the operation.

“It was decided a helicopter would come out the following day to try and take me off.

“The Chilean navy team that came out in the helicopter was excellent and did a very professional job. It all went without any problems and in no time at all I was being pulled up into the air, into the chopper and we were on our way to dry land.”

And he added: “The Chilean hospitality has been wonderful and I have been treated more like an honoured guest rather than a stupid yachtsman who has caused a lot of grief and work for those onshore.

“I would like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has sent in messages and condolences and have supported the trip all the way through.

“All your messages have helped me greatly and have given me a real boost. I’m sorry it had to end this way. At the end of the day it is the risk we take when we do crazy things like this. At least I am safe and I owe the Chilean Armada a huge thank you for that.”

 

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