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40 Days and 40 Nights

Sara as seen from the deck of Indian Point after sailing circles in the Atlantic for 40 days.

Indian Point
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

A British cruising couple were rescued last week after spending more than a month aboard their disabled sailboat in the Atlantic. Stuart Armstrong, 51, and Andrea Davison, 48, had intended to make a two-week transatlantic crossing from the Cape Verde Islands to Antigua aboard their 42-ft sloop Sara. But on January 9, six days into the voyage, the rudder jammed. Reportedly, all attempts to free it were unsuccessful. So were all attempts to counteract or ‘override’ it using drogues.

“In effect, we were sailing round and round in circles,” said Stuart.

The couple had plenty of food and a watermaker. They had fuel and the engine ran, so they had electrical power. They also had a satphone that they used to alert both the British and American Coast Guards, and to let their families know the situation. But at the time, the weather was good and neither Stuart nor Andrea — who had 11 prior transatlantic crossings between them — were particularly bothered, said Stuart, adding, “In hindsight, perhaps we should have been.”

Ten days later the alternator went out. That meant no watermaker. They still had solar panels and a wind generator, which supplied enough juice to run a few lights at night, and to allow them continued use of the satellite phone, albeit sparingly.

Coast Guard stations in both Britain and the U.S. monitored their position but — according to intial reports — because of their remote location, no rescue attempt was launched. (It seems hard to imagine the Coasties would not at least divert a ship to this obviously disabled boat, especially with storms forecast to hit the area.) So Stuart and Andrea just sat tight, played a lot of cards, talked to their families once or twice a week, and hoped they’d eventually drift close enough to the Caribbean or U.S. coast that a ship might intercept them.

Andrea needed assistance to get aboard the supertanker.

Indian Point
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In the weeks following, they were at the mercy of several storms, each one seemingly worse than the one previous. Finally, 40 days after they had left the Cape Verdes, they were rescued by the supertanker Indian Point, which rendezvoused with the yacht on February 18 about 320 miles southwest of Bermuda. By that time Andrea was too weak to climb a rope ladder, so she was put in a safety harness and hoisted aboard. The couple were checked by the ship’s medical staff and, save for a few cuts and bruises, given a clean bill of health. They were assigned a cabin for the remainder of the trip, and were due to have arrived in Amsterdam yesterday. The disabled yacht could not be hoisted aboard or towed, so they had to leave her.

“The boat had been our home for eight years,” said Stuart. “Although we have now lost her, at least we still have our lives.”

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