The Irishman later told YM, in his first full interview, just how much of his own trouble he had been in. Speaking in Australia, he said: ‘The sea state was phenomenal. It was now a solid Force 10 and some gusts were 80 knots, with a 150¡ wind shift within an hour.
‘I was struggling to keep the boat pointing downwind, with or without warps. I don’t know if I agree with those techniques any more. There is a lot to be said for surfing the waves. As soon as I was rounded, the wind would pin me beam on. But when the really big one hit, I was actually pointing the right way.
‘I saw an incredible wave off the starboard quarter. I thought “oh shit”. I knew I would be rolled over. It was a breaking wave, bigger than all the others. It was one really steep throwing peak. I closed the hatch but I didn’t manage to grab hold of anything. The boat was just dumped up and thrown upside down. I was thrown through the air and onto the galley. Everything went pitch black. The boat quickly came back up the same way. It was a mess. Olive oil had exploded all over the cabin, making movement treacherous. A stowed anchor chain had smashed through sole boards. But Mcguckin’s concern was outside. The mast had broken in three places and it had hit the self steering.
A DESPERATE RACE
‘I knew it was game over. It was heartbreaking.
I had been really enjoying the race,’ he said. ‘I had to hacksaw the roller tubes of the two forestays before using bolt cutters. When I’d cut it free, the mast was still snagged on the guardrails, but I managed to kick it off when it was lifted by a wave. My energy was focussed on getting rid of the mast but when that was over I went back to being disappointed. I’d probably have got depressed and gone to sleep for a day but then I was told about Abhilash.’
The two men had by chance spent most of the race close to each other.
They chatted by radio for an hour a day and were close friends. Mcguckin built a jury rig with his one surviving spinnaker pole, bracing a kink caused by the falling mast. He managed to get the engine going but only for five minutes.
‘That was unbelievably frustrating.
I bled the whole system and I even siphoned fuel through filters, but I couldn’t get it to start. All the time I was thinking of Abhilash. The days were passing and he was deteriorating.’ Mcguckin was relieved to be in a new gale because it blew him along at four knots: ‘I was very tired and wouldn’t be thinking properly when alongside. The risks were huge. I was scared of it. There was a very good chance I wouldn’t have been able to do anything in that sea state. When I heard the French fisheries boat was on the scene it was a huge relief.’
Two hours later, Mcguckin, only 25 miles from Abhilash Tomy’s boat, was picked up too, so as not to risk another rescue under jury rig, and the two men were reunited: ‘That was great. We felt such relief.’
All of the men survived but only Slats remained in the race. Wiig and Mcguckin are back safe and well with family. Tomy was ultimately taken to hospital in Delhi for his back to be operated on.
As we went to press, only eight of the 18 boats are still sailing. On 20 October, Frenchman Loïc Lepage was dismasted 600 miles SW of Perth, holing his hull. He activated his EPIRB and was making way under engine towards two vessels offering assistance.
ABOVE: Mcguckin demonstrated extraordinary seamanship in attempting to reach Tomy, despite his own brutal dismasting BELOW: Abhilash Tomy was taken to hospital in Delhi for surgery on his back