Experience: we were shipwrecked after our boat hit a whale | Life and style

I I was twenty when I grew up in Birmingham and left university, I wanted an adventure. I bought a plane ticket to the Canary Islands, and with no sailing experience, Stopped boat trips across the Atlantic, arriving in New Zealand.

I settled there, working as a carpenter and mason, and met my wife, Rosie, in 2012. Rosie was also English, and when she was pregnant with our daughter Anua in 2014, we moved back to the UK. But by the time Annua’s sister Willow arrived in 2017, we were already deported back to France.

The grand plan was to live in the ocean. We loved the water and wanted to share that with the girls. But when they were four and one, Rosie died of breast cancer. We are devastated.

Three years passed until, in December 2021, I saw a 38ft catamaran for sale in Portimao, Portugal. I sold our little house and you bought it. I wanted to find someone who would live on the ship and help the girls while I worked, Kim, an experienced artist and sailor, replied. Kim and I quickly fell in love and in June 2022, the four of us set sail.

We traveled along the Portuguese Algarve coast to the Canaries and then the Azores, planning to return to England during the winter. It was late August, and on our fourth night at sea, I took the first sighting while Kim and the girls slept. He was quiet. Then around 10 pm, there was a loud bang.

Kim was tossed out of bed. I raced through the hole. Water was running down my ankles. While I was looking for damage, my hand touched a jagged piece of wood. Attached was a large piece of gray skin with a thick layer of greasy pink flesh that only a whale could belong to.

The plank left a hole in the boat. I didn’t want to know if the whale was still there. We were sinking fast. The water was waist high. Kim was extracting as much water as possible. Willow was transferred to the port hull with Annoa, the cabin being watertight. We were 600 miles from Portugal, on our own.

You activated distress calls to alert passing ships and the Coast Guard; To keep the boat afloat as long as possible, we threw our worldly possessions overboard. If we hadn’t been rescued before he fell, we’d have to flee in a rowboat, so we pumped him up and Kim prepared food and water for three days. There will be no space on the canoe for our dog Nala. The horror of our situation hit hard. Kim stayed with the girls while I sat on the roof, smoking heavily, watching The Help and preparing to die.

At about 1 am, I saw a plane flying low. I scrambled for a torch and waved madly. I was sure she saw us and calculated that it would take 30 hours for the boat to leave the port and get to us. We had to find a way to survive.

Kim and I talked about many things at the end of the world while we waited and the girls fell asleep. At about 4:30 in the morning, I saw a light on the horizon. For my convenience, it was a ship. We raised the emergency beacon. By 5:30 am, more lights were visible – heading straight for us.

The girls woke up. As the sun rose, we said goodbye to our sweet home, got down into the canoe—with Nala—and paddled toward the tanker. The crew – Croatian and Georgian workers who brought gas from the United States to Poland – was relieved to see us alive. The last time they performed a cure, they found a dead man.

Their way passed through the canal, where we were transferred to a fishing boat which took us to Falmouth, where my family was waiting. The captain, Alan, treated us to fish and chips and a pint.

Many of our things sank with our boat, including Rosie’s ashes. We were not insured of bumping into a whale, and are now staying at my mum’s, in Malvern, Worcestershire.

I’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to rebuild. I’m building but want to build off grid tiny homes. When we make enough money, we will go back to the sea and continue our dream.

What happened to us was a valuable lesson in the fragility of human existence. It was almost bookish. Fate seems to have dealt us the hard way but we hope everything happens for a reason – it doesn’t become clear until you’re out of the way.

As told to Deborah Linton

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