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 Atlantic Challenge

 Updated October 20th 1997


Everything against them

CD Riches and Peter Haining report on their trials and tribulations

Too far, too fast

Exclusive report on CD Riches and Peter Haining's ordeal in the first few days of Chay Blyth's Challenge.

David "CD" Riches and Peter Haining have been forced to retire from the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race. Although both men are recovering from their ordeal, the boat is badly damaged to allow them to get back into the race. David and Peter are bitterly disappointed that their Atlantic adventure should end so soon, but they are already planning a new challenge, to fulfill their ambition to achieve some kind of rowing first, and to benefit their sponsors and charities (cancer research and dyslexia).

"Marion" set off strongly and led for the first few hours of the race. The crew elected to pass to the south side of Gomera Island, while most of the fleet took the more traditional North Passage. Neither of the crew had gained their sea-legs, and as the waves mounted David started suffering increasingly from sea-sickness.

Unfortunately, as they came to around the southern tip of Gomera, the boat was caught by a notorious rip-tide which swells between the islands. In the very confused sea it was carried towards the rocks. Both men continued to row through the night, struggling to keep the boat off the shore, until exhausted. Now in a serious position, they were further affected by a weather front passing through from the south, creating a Gale Force 7 storm and mounting seas. Both men remained calm, although by now David was barely conscious and severely dehydrated.

Each continued with the safety procedures, putting on their survival suits and dropping the sea anchor. Later on, when it got worse, Peter activated the argon distress beacon, and made a Vodafone call to his wife, in order to get in touch with the Canarian representative in Los Gigantes, trying to arrange for a tow to the island. At that stage he did not realise how much worse it was going to get. The storm rose further, and soon it was quite clear the Atlantic Challenge boat was not going to be able to reach them. It was decided in the circumstances to authorise the Canarian rescue services to come and help them.

Now Peter let off the flares and rockets to guide the Canarian Air Force and other rescuers, including a lifeboat, helicopter and rescue craft. They had to transfer to the lifeboat, and were then winched aboard the helicopter, flown to Tenerife airport and then transferred to hospital. David was admitted to Las Americas Green Clinic barely conscious and suffering from food poisoning and chronic dehydration. Peter was suffering from severe shock and exhaustion, and was X-rayed for a suspected cracked rib. This turned out to be badly torn chest muscles, an injury sustained during the storm in a fall. Both men praised the Canarian rescue services and the treatment they received at the Green Clinic.

CD Riches: "Our problem was that we'd got too far ahead of the rest of the fleet too early on, and ran into weather that luckily no-one else encountered. We were further west than anyone else - they were all to the north or south of us. Then we hit a storm so treacherous that the rescue services said we were lucky to survive it. They were unable to tow our boat back when they picked us up, and recovered it next day. It was severely damaged, had clearly rolled over several times and had a number of holes in it, and the safety rails were broken in a number of places. In consequence it is not possible to consider restarting without major repairs, and so we are returning to the UK with the boat."

Also hit by food poisoning were two other crews, including the American girls of "American Pearl". They suspect the problem arose from one of the events before they left. Riches and Haining have salvaged as much equipment from their boat as possible to give to "American Pearl", to allow Louise Graff and Victoria Murden to restart. They are giving them the satellite phone, the sea anchor and the undamaged portion of the safety rails. CD again: "They were probably the best aspect of our equipment - rails built by Len Neville. They probably saved Peter's life when he was trying to get the rescue services close enough to the boat."

© Copyright Regatta Magazine, 1997.

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