They're trans-Atlantic rowers, so no one need question their toughness. But there comes a time when discretion is the better part of valor, when circumstances and the sea are too much to overcome.
That moment arrived on Monday for the Atlantic Forces rowing team, four members of the British Royal Air Force participating in the 2,982-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. After a number of difficulties aboard Clear Run en route from Spain to Antigua, they realized the time had come to call for help.
A broken rudder on Day 46 was the coup de grace. The crew – skipper Jane McIntosh, Warren Burns, Howard Raw and Elizabeth Beauchamp – tried in vain for five days to repair it in heavy seas. Running low on food and water and with their electronics failing, they used the little electricity they had left to request assistance on their satphone.
The call to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in England was relayed to the U.S. Coast Guard, which tapped the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System (AMVER) to contact the nearest participating ship. That proved to be the freighter Hedvig Bulker, which shifted its course by 70 miles and rendezvoused with the rowers about 1,500 miles northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The rescue wasn't an easy one. Rough seas prevented the freighter from coming alongside the rowboat, forcing the ship's crew to deploy a cargo net for the job. After nine attempts in five hours, all four rowers were hoisted aboard.
While obviously disappointed that they had to withdraw — "This decision has not been made lightly and it has been the toughest decision the team have had to make," Atlantic Forces posted on its Facebook page — it was easy for them to see the bigger picture.
"The team are all safe and well and would like to thank absolutely everyone for all their help and support along the way – it really has meant the world to them and kept them going through some very difficult times!"