It’s all over for NY2SY after harrowing Atlantic rescue

Left to right, ocean rowers Niall Iain MacDonald and Leven Brown

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Solo ocean rower Niall Iain Macdonald, 44, was rescued from his boat, ALBA, on Friday after his cabin was swamped and his systems started to fail in heavy seas.

The Gaelic broadcaster from Lewis, who was more than a quarter of the way into his North Atlantic challenge, was battered by severe weather during the night and forced to make a Mayday call before abandoning ship.

He was picked up from his liferaft this morning by a Dutch cargo ship, the DOLFIJNGRACHT. His boat, which has suffered extensive damage, has been abandoned at sea.

The rescue comes just two days after an NY2SY update, celebrating the fact that Niall Iain was more than a quarter of the way home, having passed 871 miles or more than 1,400 kilometres and averaging about 40 miles a day.

His main shore support, Leven Brown, had said he was doing ‘an amazing job’ and ‘making good time’. Leven also spoke of the use of sea anchors during heavy weather – and how they are supposed to stabilise a boat by pointing its nose into the waves.

In his email, Niall Iain wrote: ‘I had to abandon my boat earlier this morning. I got knocked down again by a wave at around 4am and I really thought she was going over this time.

‘She came back up but I saw that the wind generator had been badly damaged. I hit my head hard off the control panel too when the wave hit. I felt that I had to go outside and check the extent of the damage.

‘On opening the hatch the boat pitched and water started to come over the lip of the hatch into the cabin. It caught me unawares and I got hit by a wave and the cabin was swamped substantially.

‘I continued to take a beating and the water seemed to be everywhere and so I decided to activate the EPIRB. The interior footwell was full of water and there was a couple of inches on the cabin floor where I sleep. In that circumstance, and with the damage to the wind generator, I felt that I had to.

He then inflated the liferaft and pressed the red emergency button on his VHF and issued a Mayday call. He spoke with the UK Coastguard on the sat phone who advised vessels and an aircraft were being directed to his position. After trying to raise anyone on his VHF, Niall Iain then saw the VHF ariel had been snapped.

He said: ‘I remained with the boat but was knocked down once more. There seemed to be water everywhere in the cabin and some of my systems started to fail. I eventually received a call on my handheld VHF from the cargo vessel DOLFIJNGRACHT that they were making their way to my location.

‘They arrived at around 7:45am. We decided that the best option would be for me to get into the liferaft, detach from ALBA and drift across to DOLFIJNGRACHT.

‘It seemed to take forever for us to come closer and I kept losing sight of the boat in the waves and swell. As I approached I honestly thought that I was going to get crushed under the bow of the boat which was heaving up and down in the swell. I have never been so scared as I was then.

‘I managed to keep paddling the liferaft and came as close alongside to their starboard as I could and they threw a line which I got hold of. I grabbed at a rope ladder they deployed and climbed up to the deck. ALBA has been abandoned at sea.’

‘As harrowing as the rescue was for me, the captain and crew of the DOLFIJNGRACHT did an amazing job getting me onboard in very difficult conditions (four metre waves and two metre swell according to the captain). I am just happy to be alive, I haven’t really thought about anything else.

‘The DOLFIJNGRACHT is en route to Canada and I will stay onboard until June 19 when she reaches Escoumins, Montreal. I’m not sure what happens then, to be honest.’

Niall Iain undertook NY2SY to raise awareness of mental health issues and to raise at least £100,000 for Scottish mental health charity SAMH.