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Earthrace Tragedy Page 2

At 6:45 a.m. there's finally enough light to have a look at the props. Anthony jumps in. "The blades are all bent," he says. "Chuck us a large spanner." He tries this and comes back up, "We need something bigger." The big monkey wrench is slung over to him. "I need a hand with this," he says. "The blades are too thick." So the two of us clamber under the stern, struggling away to straighten the props. We make a small improvement. But only just. Engine speed can be crept up a little, allowing us 7 knots.

Earthrace was on the ninth day of her trip when the collision occurred.

But it's unbearably slow. The problem is our starboard engine is still inoperable because of the oil leak from the day before. We're on one engine only. "Let's see if we can keep the starboard engine going," I yell at Anthony. My plan is to have all our spare engine oil ready to go in. We place a drip tray under the leak and just keep recycling the fluid. So as the starboard engine loses fluid, we'll just top it up. Anthony looks dubious. He's seen the leak and knows it'll have oil everywhere in the engine room.

Five minutes later and he's ready to go. The starboard engine roars into life, and I kick Earthrace into gear immediately, making use of the engine while we can. "Pissing oil everywhere, Pete," comes a muffled cry from Anthony. "Just keep her topped up," I yell back. I'm watching the oil pressure, hovering around 3.8 bar, which is normal. We might be losing fluid, but its not affecting pressure that much. We're up to 14 knots. Not great, but better than 7. It's cut our travel time in half if we can maintain this.

"Shut her down, shut her down," screams Anthony. We grind back to 7 knots, and things go quiet. I poke my nose in the engine room. Anthony looks like a black sambo, his face covered in oil, and just the whites of his eyes and teeth are showing. The entire engine bay is covered in a thin spray, and the bilge is flowing with a black slick of oil. Anthony looks dejected. "Worth a try," he mutters.

Gonzales by now has had 1000 ccm of IV fluid, and his blood pressure has sneaked up to 80/60. David checks if he's pissed himself. "The trouble is he's taken a full liter of fluid into his tiny body, and nothing has come out," explains David. "This means he's probably got significant internal bleeding."

Just before 7:00 an e-mail comes through saying that local authorities have been alerted but no assets are available to help. Another series of ranting phone calls goes out. At 7:20 another e-mail arrives. A U.S. Lt. Colonel has notified the local Coast Guard, and they are en route to assist us. Then at 07:23 a third e-mail, saying a Guatemalan Navy vessel has just left San Jose. Suddenly we're not entirely alone.

Earthrace in happier times, cruising under the Golden Gate bridge.

Gradually Gonzalez comes back to life. His blood pressure sneaks up. Then he's awake again, albeit a bit drowsy. Next he wants a piss. Not surprising when he's had 2500cc of saline. His urine is clear. All good signs. We know he's not out of danger yet, but he's now got a fighting chance.

Gonzalez is loaded into one of our pipe cots and made ready for transfer. Every movement causes him to wince in pain. "Should we give him a shot of morphine?" I suggest. David's not keen on this.

At 9:40 a.m. the Navy vessel arrives. And then surprise, surprise, one of the fishing boats from last night turns up. The skipper stands belligerently on the bow of the skiff, ordering his crew around. I glare down at this wanker now offering his assistance. Clearly the skiff is the best option, as the Navy vessel looks old and slow. A pity the fisherman wasn't so generous last night. There's considerable debate in Spanish on the stern over how to get him onto the skiff, while Gonzalez lies in the cockpit groaning. Finally we manage to get him off, and seconds later, the skiff is zooming off to port, now just 14 miles away.

The Navy Captain then comes inside Earthrace. He wants to know what happened. So I tell him the story of the most horrifying night of my life. We struggle over some of the words, and we're nearly to port before I finally finish. The Captain came with another young man, who is surprisingly out of uniform. "Who is this?" I ask, pointing at him. "It is the son of the man who is now missing, and he was fishing on the boat last night when you went and asked them for help." I can see in the young man's eyes he knows we're talking about him, but he doesn't understand. "Does he know his father has drowned?" I ask, tears now starting to well up in my eyes. "Not yet," the Captain replied, looking away and also struggling to contain his emotions. Tears roll down my cheeks, and the gravity of last night's events finally sink in.

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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