Hopefully this blog can provide a bit of insight into what happened on the boat and give readers an idea of how it was to be there.
The decision that Anna made was a difficult one, but it was the right one for her. We were all aware that she had been struggling with being on the boat and tried to help her through it as best we could. I remember having a really lovely heart-to-heart with Anna one day when we were on para anchor; we both sat with our backs against the stern cabin, boat bobbing in the waves, sun shining down on us. Whilst I admired the sparkling blue sea, Anna was dreaming of being in a lush green field. Green! We were starting to forget what that was like.
Both Anna and I had also suffered from sea sickness fairly badly. We had been trying different tablets in the lead up to the race but the best ones we found weren’t effective during the real thing. If you’ve never been sea sick, count yourself lucky! It’s pretty horrid… the worst part being that you can’t really eat or drink anything and it just wipes you out. Yet we knew we had to row; we had to carry on for our crew. So row – throw up – straight back on the oars – repeat. Not a fun start to the journey.
By day 5 we had started to recover and had our appetites back, but it was too little too late for Anna. Clearly it had affected her badly – she found out on land that she had contracted a kidney infection and was hypoglycemic – both of which could have been treated on the boat, but we wouldn’t have been able to detect them until she had deteriorated further.
Eliza and I had just finished our 2 hour shift; we were excited to be moving again, just worked out a new shift pattern for night time (6 hours on/off was deemed excessive so we settled on 3!) which was to start the next night, and I got changed into my PJs for the first time that day. I had just settled down and overheard something happening on deck, something didn’t sound right.
(Note to reader, I’m sat in Fulham Library writing this, trying not to cry too obviously!)
On opening the cabin door I heard Mariana shouting “girls, girls!!”… something was up. I shoved on my wet kit and harness and got out on deck, to see Eliza emerging from her cabin at the same time and Mariana stood over Anna. “She’d just fainted on the oars and had an eplieptic-type fit”.
(to put it politely).
Anna came to, and all she could say was that she was cold and wanted to stand up. We all went into survival mode – Eliza and Mariana get Anna in the cabin and warm, I will call for help on the VHF. There was nobody within VHF range; after all, we’re on the Pacific 150 miles from shore.
The SatPhone is located with the other electricals in the stern cabin so Eliza gave the race director a call; he immediately put us on to the doctor who monitored Anna overnight, giving vitals and updates every hour. We needed to keep her warm so the doctor suggested a hot drink; easier said than done on a rocking boat in high winds! With frozen hands and crouched as close to the bow as I could be, I finally got the gas canister lit after 30mins of trying. Anna would be frozen solid by now!
We passed the night in our cabins. Eliza took care of Anna whilst Mariana and I stayed holed up, disconnected and wondering what was going on. We had a VHF the stern cabin could reach us on if they needed to, so had to assume all was ok unless we heard otherwise.
In the morning we sat on deck for a crew chat; wet weather gear on, sun shining, waves rolling but rowable, high wind but again rowable. There was a sombre mood on the boat. We chatted about how Anna was feeling (she seemed dazed still) and what we wanted to do as a crew.
It’s difficult to convey how responsible you feel. The decisions you make on that boat are whether you will achieve your dreams, but also whether you’ll have to be the one telling a crewmate’s family that their loved one didn’t make it. There was no way we would take it lightly.
After lots of phone calls to every man and his dog, it was decided that Anna would probably be ok to carry on if we gave her rest and food, but it was safer for her to quit the race. We discussed the implications of that decision and whether we could go on as a 3; long story short, there wasn’t a safe way to do that. And so the decision was made; we were retiring from the race.
The support boats were fairly close by so were with us in a matter of hours. That was it; our journey on the Pacific was over.