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The boat rolled, and I was catapulted into the South Atlantic

Arthur Bowers was enjoying a life on the ocean wave on board the Hull and Humber clipper... until he fell overboard. He talks to Sarah Freeman.

Read Christine Davies' blog and picture gallery from on board Hull and Humber

Descended from a long line of fishermen, the 51-year-old harboured a dream of taking to the ocean waves and after watching footage of last year's Clipper Round the World Race he was determined that when the boats set sail again he would be on board.

Using his savings to help fund the 27,000 adventure, he gave up his job working in leaflet distribution in Hull and in September he waved goodbye to his friends and family as his boat, along with nine others, sailed out of the Humber Estuary to begin the 35,000 mile voyage.

Since then, Arthur has been adapting to life on board, and until this month it seemed his family's maritime background was standing him in good stead. However, when the Hull & Humber was still some 1,400 miles from the second leg finishing line in Cape Town, disaster struck.

Caught in a South Atlantic storm, with the boat battered by rough seas, the crew braced themselves for an uncomfortable afternoon. It was the kind of weather sailors have to get used to, but when Arthur unclipped his safety line so he could walk downstairs to the yacht's saloon, he was caught by a huge wave and his normally robust sea legs buckled.

Plunged into the icy waters, Arthur found himself at the centre of a dramatic rescue which saw the crew's emergency training put to the test.

"We had left Rio 10 days earlier, we were in second place and it just felt like everything was going to plan," he told the Yorkshire Post on arrival in South Africa. "Then the weather turned and the conditions deteriorated quickly. Water was coming over the bow and at times the waves were up to eight metres high. It was pretty feisty.

"Having changed the sails, I was about to go down to the saloon, but just as I took off the safety clip we were hit by another big wave. When the boat rolled, I lost my balance and was catapulted through the guard rail into the South Atlantic."

Arthur's team mates immediately raised the alarm and keeping track of his life-jacket, they turned the boat around. The first rescue attempt failed, but as the boat swept around for a second time fellow crew member Jeremy Reed was lowered over the side to grab him on the way past.

"It all happened so quickly," said Arthur. "One second I was on the boat and the next I was in the water with my life jacket inflated. I had no concept of time and I tried to keep as relaxed as possible as our training had taught us not to panic and waste energy. I could see the boat and I could hear people shouting. One of the crew waved so I put my thumbs up to let them know I was okay and I remember seeing someone else pointing at me just like we had in the practice sessions to let everyone know where I was.

"The boats did a couple of sweeps before I was picked up and there was one point when I was worried it might go right over me as the waves were so big. Every time I got near the boat I was swallowing mouthfuls of water. I could see Jeremy's legs, but I didn't seem to be able to move.

"I think that was the first time I really panicked. It turned out that Jeremy had secured me, but I wasn't sure. I held on to the helistrop for dear life, so much so I hurt my hand, which I suppose shows just what strength you have when in dire straits.

"However, if I'm honest my real concern was that we had been in such a good prominent position and now we were losing time on the race. As it turned out we only lost five miles, but at the time all I remember thinking was, 'We're wasting time here'."

Arthur was in the water for 17 minutes and as soon as he was back on board he was checked for signs of hypothermia. He was given the all-clear, and having changed into some warm clothes, he did his best to boost morale among the rest of the crew who had been left somewhat subdued by the rescue mission.

"That's the first man overboard I've had," added skipper Piers Dudin, who was a maths teacher in a previous life. "It's something that happens very, very rarely. It's a one-off and we dealt with it, although I hope we don't have to deal with one again.

"As soon as I heard the 'Man Overboard' shout go up, I pressed the button to mark our position on the GPS. It's part of the training we do and I've spent so much time telling people, 'That's the one you've got to press'. I couldn't quite believe I was actually doing it for real. However, once I had, everything just clicked into place and the crew were already into a routine.

"It brought back the reality of what we're doing. However, it also showed us that if the worst does happen we can handle it which has made us all feel a lot more comfortable. The way we got through it actually brought us very tightly together as a team and that was very much

led by Arthur – he was so solid and everyone fed off that. His strength of character was unwavering."

As the Hull & Humber arrived in Cape Town on Friday in a respectable fourth place, the crew were clearly emotional and while the sea was calm and there was not a cloud in the sky, Arthur was clearly not taking any chances.

Standing at the helm, steering the yacht across the finishing line, there were no less than eight safety lines attaching him to the boat. However, it will take more than a few large waves to prevent him

from completing the race in July.

"I'm just looking forward to the next leg to Australia and to see

a few of the sights of Cape Town," he said. "It looks like a nice place.

"Obviously going overboard wasn't part of my plans when I signed up for the Clipper race, but it's all part of the experience. I have had a wonderful time so far, it has been better than I ever imagined it could be.

"I do occasionally think how right now I could be biking to work on a freezing winter mornings and instead I'm having a real adventure with a wonderful group of people.

"Sometimes I do have to stop and pinch myself."

 
 
 

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