Sunday, 14th July, brought poor visibility and a perverse northwesterly wind. We were trapped under a veil of cloud, through which could be glimpsed a dappled moon. An age passed before we saw Bull Light. Why didn't it move? Dawn revealed Great Skellig, an enormous conical chunk of rock, awesome and forbidding. Visibility worsened as the wind backed to the west, gradually increasing to Force 8. We were in trouble.
Great Skellig on a fine day
A few miles to starboard there were the Skellig Islands and a fearsome lee shore from which there seemed no escape. With just a tiny corner of the mainsail and the storm jib set, ‘Nellie’ our self-steering gear worked hard at coaxing 'Shyauk' over fierce breaking seas. The scene was one of utter bedlam while the wild wind shrieked, howled and whistled. Steep breaking seas became more menacing, forcing us to lay ahull. Then there was nothing for it but to pray. I was cold and wet, suffering from hypothermia, but fear was the main reason why my body shook. A poor R.D.F. bearing of Eagle Island placed us in a vulnerable position with Great Skellig less than two miles away.
Our last resort was the engine, which fired into life at the second pull. Bang, crash! Bang, crash! Slowly 'Shyauk’ climbed each swell and smashed through breaking crests, then accelerated as she slithered down the windward side of every advancing wave. Hail, rain, salt and spray made seeing difficult. ‘Thump’ spluttered on for three quarters of an hour, then gave up. Once again we lay ahull. Like express trains, huge breakers thundered down gigantic swells before crashing against ‘Shyauk’s’ windward side. As she heeled and gave to each of them she left a slick to windward that helped flatten the advancing waves. This was her secret of survival.
Tidal currents swished us to and fro, and poor visibility made navigation virtually impossible. Every hour the barometric pressure fell one millibar. The wind veered and blew harder than ever. How were the other small fry coping? ‘Bluff’, ‘Windsor Life' and 'Black Velvet'? Perhaps they too were in difficulties?
Early on Tuesday morning 16th July, visibility improved, and the wind abated. It wasn't until early Wednesday morning that we saw Gull Rock Light. But by then, our morale was rock bottom; our spirit had been broken. Wind and sea had overcome us. We knew we could no longer complete the Race within the time limit. An inspection of the boat revealed a loose connection between the tiller and the rudder post because of the exceptional forces that had been imposed upon the badly designed fitting during the gale.
The Skipper shattered after the onslaught
Despondent, but knowing it was the right decision, we retired from the Race and ran for the Scilly Islands, where we informed Race Officials of our reluctant retirement.
Running to the Scillies after retirement
Altogether out of 60 starters there were 18 retirements, and out of the three 24 LOA yachts, only ‘Windsor Life’ completed the Race by virtue of a time extension. She raced for a total of 38 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes. John Westell and Bill Cherry were rescued when their trimaran broke up.
Starcross, July, 1974.
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