Approaching the Azores: Yacht starts to sink after striking Whale

After a tough Atlantic crossing just 350 miles from the Azores, skipper David Bowes and his two crew members had to abandon ship after a surprise collision with a whale that caused significant damage to his beloved yacht “Destiny of Scarborough”.

Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago

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The British skipper whose yacht was sunk by a massive whale in a freak mid-Atlantic collision, has relived his dramatic rescue involving Air Force jets and a naval vessel.

Retired teacher David Bowes, 61, from Pocklington, East Yorks., had to abandon his beloved boat after it was damaged in an extraordinary accident more than 300 miles off the Azores.

He and two crew members had survived two storms on their way back from the British Virgin Islands to Southampton and were enjoying calm seas when David was thrown sideways and got to his feet to see the 10-foot-long whale’s tail within ‘touching distance’ of his yacht.

The sailors thought they were fine at first until water started coming through cracks that appeared in the hull over the next few hours as a result of the strike.

Dad-of-two David, now back in the UK after a nerve-racking rescue by a merchant vessel which was the first ship on the scene, ended up sending out a distress signal after realizing they could never make it try to land in time at the rate they were pumping out incoming sea water.

In his first emotional words after cheating death earlier this week he said today: “I’m an experienced sailor and you prepare for all the usual hazards like bad weather but you never expect to encounter what we did.

“We’d coped beautifully with 36 hours of gales on our way back from the British Virgin Islands with winds peaking at 45 knots and the sea was relatively calm and the winds were light when the whale hit us.

“I had the engine on to charge the batteries and would have thought that would have alerted it to our position. I felt an initial strong judder and knew we had hit something but thought it was a shipping container.

“Next thing there was a tremendous strike which felt almost as if we had been punched. I was at the chart table checking battery meters at the time and was thrown diagonally across the saloon but fortunately onto some cushions and immediately went up to the cockpit and saw a huge tail fluke of a whale sticking out of the water on the starboard quarter which is the back end of the boat on the right hand side.

“It was within touching distance of the boat. I’ve no idea what sort of whale it was but this huge tail fluke was as big as the RIB we kept on the back of the yacht which is just over ten feet long.

“I braced for the impact of it hitting the rudder which would have put us in serious bother but fortunately that never came.”

The Yorkshireman, a former design and technology teacher, initially decided to continuing heading towards the UK after doing a damage assessment and seeing a little bit of water was coming in but not enough to make them change their plans.

But a few hours later he decided to alert coastguards in Falmouth after hearing strange creaking noises – and on Monday morning issued a distress call after more and more water started to come in through new cracks that had gradually opened up after the collision.

He said: “It was a difficult decision. That yacht was my pride and joy. I’d owned it for seven years and done 15,000 miles on this boat alone.

“When the rescue vessel arrived I had to abandon it and set it adrift to sink. The pumps were still coping when I made the distress call but the cracks were getting bigger and bigger.

“If we had been 60 miles from dry land I would have tried to nurse it ashore but we were about 350 miles from the Azores and further from the Portuguese mainland.

“I wasn’t going to gamble with three people’s lives including my own and our opinion was we wouldn’t have lasted that long.

“There was no panic while we were still on board. But we’re fully aware now we’re back on dry land of how close we came to losing our lives.

“I’ve no doubt the boat wouldn’t have made it back to the Azores in the wind or 600 miles to the Portuguese mainland and wasn’t going to bet lives on it that we would.”

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