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Twenty-five years ago to the day, the luxury superyacht I was delivering from Rio to the Cape ran into a container. I had not long gone off-watch, as the maritime expression goes, and my mate took over the wheel. It was just after midnight.

The yacht slammed into the submerged container. It punctured the hull near the keel. Moments later, I was woken by water pouring into my cabin and over the bunk.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Sinking ... The yacht is filled with seawater and is close to sinking.

The yacht was seriously damaged, and it was soon obvious that she was beyond repair out in the mid-South Atlantic, very far from either South America or South Africa.

My shipmate was a young woman who volunteered to help as I was leaving the marina alone. Poor Beth. I'm sure she'll never forget that moment, and nor the very scary time to come.

The yacht filled very quickly and we had no option but to take to a liferaft.

The wrong class of raft

We were lucky in a way that the weather was not stormy.

Although liferaft drill was part of my nautical college training for my DoT Commercial Yachtmaster ticket, the raft Beth and I climbed into seemed very different indeed.

It was much smaller than rafts used in training. And as we soon learned, it was the wrong type for an ocean. Documentation in the raft showed it was built for brief rescue efforts in the English Channel.

I remember so clearly how we expected rescue within an hour or two. Friend David Elcock was sailing a yacht back from Rio at about the same time. Why wouldn't he be coming over the horizon at any moment?

In fact, we didn't see any vessel at all for the time we struggled with the elements through a succession of dramas, which I would like to outline over the next few days here in the Sailing to Purgatory blogs.

On the first day, we were squeezed into the tiny raft a short distance from the swamped yacht. Tomorrow, I'll tell you of the day's drama as we wait for ... well, rescue, but very sadly for the yacht to give up the ghost and to sink.

However, it seemed that the yacht, by then a hulk, actually tried to sink us in the raft ...

Thanks very much for visiting the blogs for my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory.

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