Yachtsman Malcolm Russell reached St Helena exhausted but unharmed after a gruelling 1,600-mile voyage – then fell overboard in James Bay.
He couldn’t climb up out of the water, and his brother Rusty no longer had the strength to haul him in.
Now Malcolm has told how the pair were taken in by “the angel of the island” when they finally got to dry land, because they were in such a bad way.
The two “trade wind gypsies” were recreating a voyage Malcolm and his wife undertook 40 years earlier.
They left South Africa on 1 May 2014 in the yacht Ambre and soon found themselves wallowing in dangerous and uncomfortable conditions off uninhabited Dassen Island.
Then Neil developed a throat problem, so they put into Saldhana Bay in South Africa, where they took on board “the worst tasting water”, before turning towards St Helena.
“We went straight into the heaviest seas we had seen so far,” says Malcolm. “They were all over the place. We got banged around and hammered.”
During the storm a pulley failed and jammed the steering, meaning a difficult repair job.
Then continuous cloud meant the solar-powered engine battery ran down, and the auto helm stopped working.
“Now we were stuck with our biggest fear, that we would have to helm 24/7,” says Malcolm, describing the voyage on the YouTube video website. “Rusty would helm for four hours I would helm for four hours, and we would switch and switch about.
“It meant our sleep pattern got down to two and a half hours. And rusty had to call me if there was anything that needed my attention – ships close by, or something going wrong with the sails.
“I felt it.
“We finally arrived at St Helena. We lost the steering altogether and the auto helm blew up. The last three days of helming was in no wind.
“We were absolutely shattered. I had lost a huge amount of weight; so had rusty. We battled our way in, picked up a mooring and I thought our troubles were over.”
But they were denied the sleep they craved when customs and immigration asked them to go ashore.
“So these two shattered tired old guys decided to get the dinghy over,” says Malcolm. “Neil was working below decks while I went to get the dinghy and I fell overboard.
“You can’t believe what a shock it was.
“I gave rusty a yell. There was no way he could get me out, no way I could pull myself up. I was absolutely exhausted. Finally I said ‘Get a piece of rope, put a knot in it, and at least I’ve got a foothold.’
“After a lot of sweating and trying we managed to get me aboard.”
They got ashore instead on the ferry service and cleared customs.
“That’s when we decided to go and see the angel of the island.”
When they turned up at the Consulate Hotel to find old friend Hazel Wilmot, she was appalled.
“She took one look at these two old wrecks and she said, ‘No way: you’re not going back to the boat, you are staying here at the hotel as our guests. So we have a huge debt to Hazel.
“We had a really rough ride. But we are here now and loving St Helena once again.”
Part of the purpose of their voyage is to observe the state of the oceans and compare it with what Malcolm saw on his first voyage, 40 years ago, in a yacht he built for himself “in the middle of Africa with no idea how to sail”. He chronicled the trip in a book he has never finished, because “the voyage isn’t over”.
He says they saw lots of bird life this time, but only one flying fish. “That’s very scary because flying fish are prolific around here. We saw one dolphin, only one. That’s very different from last time – we had lots of sea life all around us.”
Next stop for the two mariners: the West Indies, “hopefully in time to beat the hurricane season”.
With their luck…
Gallery – from YouTube
Click on any thumbnail to see images from the Trade Wind Gypsies videos