During last week’s Fastnet Race in the Irish Sea, the yacht Rambler, which Sailing World called “the most advanced, powerful monohull race boat in the world,” capsized after its keel broke off. On board was ASA co-founder Peter Isler, Rambler’s navigator. In our latest e-newsletter, we reported on Rambler’s record-breaking performance in the Transatlantic Race. Now, Peter Isler describes a very different experience in detail.
According to his account, it was “a nice, nasty day on the Irish Sea,” with low visibility and the sea stacking up. He went on to describe how, though no one is quite sure why the boat failed to hold together, Rambler “pushes the limits.”
“There was an earth-shattering bang…and the keel broke off. The heel of the boat changed immediately.” Rambler went over on its side. Isler said it was lucky that only a few crew members were in their bunks, with the rest on deck in their life jackets and foul weather gear. Isler attempted to make a mayday call from the ship’s main radio, and received no response. As he was making another mayday call with a handheld VHF radio belowdecks, the boat turtled entirely. “I thought it was going to stay on its side,” he said.
Now Isler was faced with a harrowing swim, in frigid waters and wearing full foul weather gear and sea boots, from the hatch of the boat, under the lifelines and back to the surface. “I didn’t think I was going to make it, honestly. I didn’t pop up like you do in your skivvies…I was coming up like a sea-anchor.”
The crew huddled together for 3 hours before they were rescued, some of them fully clothed and others in nothing but long underwear. At least one member of the crew was hospitalized for hypothermia afterwards. The wait for rescue was agonizing: “Leopard went by maddeningly close, but of course, no one knew. The Volvo 70s went by…” The 21-person crew of Rambler was finally rescued by a volunteer Irish lifeboat service after dark when the lifeboat crew spotted their flashlights.
When asked how this compared to winning a race (Isler is a two-time America’s Cup champion, among many other victories), he said, “This is way better, having everyone together and everyone survive.”
On whether this experience would have a long term effect on the experienced open-ocean racers of Rambler’s crew: “Oh, yeah. It was eye opening. The lessons are: A. Wear your lifejacket. B. Stay with the boat. C. If you can’t stay with the boat, stay together.”
After several attempts, Rambler was finally righted and towed back to port without her mast or rigging. Isler said there was damage from an electrical fire, and obviously the keel was missing. What’s next for this cutting edge boat? That is yet to be decided.
You can listen to Peter Isler’s full, candid, and engrossing interview here.