I won’t get into too much detail on the circumstances surrounding the incident at this point, but basically we struck a submerged reef while trying to round a racing waypoint at Gosong Mampango, at approximately 0400 local time on January 14th. My watch were on duty at the time, and I was on the helm. Richie was in the nav station. Both of us were convinced that we had passed the island when we changed course to head north. However, charting in this part of the world is notoriously inaccurate, and it turns out that Gosong Mampango is in fact about 2nm further east than its’ indicated position on the charts. As a result, we struck the reef on its’ western shore. Cork came to rest on her starboard side, lying on the reef, resulting in severe damage to the hull. There was a hole from the skippers cabin in the stern of the boat, all the way forward through the nav station and the galley, to the crew accommodation quarters as far forward as the mast, with smaller holes further forward.
Immediately after hitting the reef, all hands were called on deck, and we transmitted a Pan Pan distress call. Team Finland, who had been visible about 6 miles behind us, responded immediately, and were on site within an hour. It was very reassuring to see them nearby, it really made us all feel better to know that we had friends nearby. Richie kept us all appraised of the situation, and told us that we would stay on board Cork until daylight, when we would be better able to assess our surroundings.
While we waited for dawn, we kept spirits high, even singing Happy Birthday to Orla Mellet, who turned 30 that day! We were being pounded by waves, which were breaking all the way over the top of the boat, and with each wave the rig shook, and there was a horrible crunching noise as the hull moved a little more on the reef. With people getting cold, I headed below to find as many smocks as possible to keep people warm. As it was becoming clear that we would be abandoning ship, a couple of us went below to collect any essential medications or other items of sentimental value for the crew.
With daybreak came the realisation that we had actually run aground just off the western side of Gosong Mampango – not the eastern side as we had assumed. We began to get the liferafts ready for deployment, refamiliarising ourselves with their operation. We would take all 3 liferafts on board, each of which has the capacity to carry 10 passengers. The intention was to get initially to the island, and from there to drift to the waiting Clipper yachts – California had now joined Team Finland, with Edinburgh, Qingdao, and Hull & Humber approaching. We were to split into 3 teams, one for each liferaft. When Richie said those words that nobody wanted to hear, ‘Abandon Ship’, Keith, the other watch leader, took the first liferaft, I took the second, and Richie went across to the island in the final liferaft.
Once on the island, we decided to abandon the liferaft which I had taken from the boat due to damage it had sustained during launch, and take two liferafts. We launched the first liferaft with Keith’s watch on board, and they headed for California. Once Keith and his watch were confirmed to be safely aboard California, my watch and Richie boarded and launched the remaining good liferaft. After drifting for 10 to 15 minutes, we were picked up by Team Finland and taken on board where they had hot tea and Toblerone waiting for us! Most welcome! We were now safely among friends, and we were very well taken care of. The crew provided dry clothing, food, and a warm welcome.
As the first boat on the scene, and therefore with the skipper, Rob, acting as incident commander, Team Finland remained on station around Cork for the next 36 hours or so. California left to continue the journey to Batam with her additional crew members. Qingdao and Edinburgh both remained behind to provide assistance in retrieving personal kit from the boat. The crew of Qingdao in particular put huge amounts of effort into retrieving our kit, for which we are extremely grateful.
Finally, control of the incident was handed over to Qingdao, and Finland was allowed to depart for Batam. Prior to departure, I made one final trip over to Cork, to ensure all the important personal items that could be accessed had been removed. It was tough to see her like that – where the heads had once been, a rock now protruded through the hull. The galley was floating around in pieces, and everywhere memories of the previous five months lay strewn around. It was, in a way, good to see her in the cold light of day, to understand why she was not to be salvaged (as we found out the following day) – and to complete the circle by being the last Cork crew member to stand on board her, after being the first of the Cork crew to board her back in Gosport when she was first branded.
So to the journey to Batam, which was not an easy one. With 25 people on board, instead of the usual 18, conditions on board were not easy. The temperature down below reached 43 celcius at times, and the humidity was almost unbearable. Above, we were beating into around 25 knots of breeze, so the boat was at a severe heel, with a lot of water coming over the deck. As a result, foul weather gear was required a lot of the time, and no hatches could be opened for ventilation. Despite all of this, everybody managed to get on really well. We made sure we integrated ourselves fully into Finland’s watches, so that we were contributing as much as possible to the running of the boat. Finland made us feel really welcome, complaining, as we all were, about the conditions, but never implying that it was our fault.
And they eventually got us safely to Batam, where we were reunited with the other half of the crew. The following day, Richie arrived on board Qingdao, and the crew was once again complete. Clipper were really supportive of us, providing us with cash to get essentials (anything we did have was ruined by diesel and seawater), and arranging for industrial cleaning for those items that it was thought might be salvageable. They had also ensured that we could make a phone call home from the boat, so relatives at home were hopefully not too worried.
After a few days in Batam, we left to head on to Singapore, where I am currently being extremely well looked after by two of my friends from Rolls-Royce, Erika and Lawton Green. They have been living here for a couple of years now, and have been extremely good to put up with me while I’m here. So I have a nice bed, lovely food, and a great pool to help me prepare for the next part of the adventure...
With the loss of Cork, I will be sailing aboard Edinburgh for the next couple of legs, potentially until Jamaica. Then, the plan is to have a new Cork boat available for us. It will be a different type of boat (there are now only nine Clipper 68’s in existence), but I think when we finally sail into Cork in July, aboard ‘Cork II’, it won’t matter. We will all just be so delighted to get there. In the meantime, I look forward to getting to know some new people, and facing some new challenges, aboard Edinburgh. I’ll keep you updated, watch this space...
Oh, and credit for the title of this post goes entirely to Gavin Kelly - the first joke about it, and still the best...
Slan agus beannacht.