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Herkules Atlantic Challenge 2010



7 March 2010

As many of you will know we had to abort our Atlantic Rowing Challenge on Saturday 6 March in the early morning. Having left Gibraltar on Friday we anchored off the coast of Ceuta for the night after encountering very strong currents when crossing the straits. In the early hours the wind picked up to a point where we considered that our lives were being put at risk. The waves were in excess of 4m high and breaking, the boat was constantly on the verge of capsizing and – more importantly – we were dragging anchor and heading towards the cliffs. We alerted Tarifa Maritime Traffic station and they dispatched the Salvamento Maritimo vessel “El Puntal”. They arrived at our location within 30 minutes and eventually managed to haul a tow line which we secured to our bows. They towed our boat ‘Herkules’ to Ceuta harbour.

We would like to express our gratitude to the crew of the Salvamar EL Puntal and to everyone at Tarifa Traffic. We would also like to thank the Gibraltar Port Authority for offering to bring us and the boat back to Gibraltar.

We had set our minds into this crossing. It will now be impossible to take up the challenge until the autumn. We will therefore take some time to consider our options.

Finally we would like to thank all our family, friends, well-wishers and sponsors who have shown great support.

A copy of our ship’s log is set out below for further information.






Friday 5th March


We never expected so many friends, family and acquaintances to wish us farewell. It was an incredible experience filled with emotions. We will never forget this moment for the rest of our lives. What had we done to deserve this!


Approximately 2 hours after high tide we set of from the Mediterranean Rowing Club to Antigua. Accompanying Herkules out to the Bay were 9 motor vessels and 2 kayaks.


We reach our first waypoint – 1nm south of Punta Canero. There is still another hour for slack tide. We decide to start crossing and benefit from the tide further into the crossing. It’s evident that the sea has not yet been influenced by the easterly winds; ideally the crossing should be on the second day of a levanter.


We don’t experience any slack or favourable tides. We are losing some longitude, but steadily advancing south. Easterly winds have now picked up and blowing at 20knots. Waves 2-2.5m


We can see the east side of the rock and we’re 9nm off our second waypoint –Faro Punta Cires.  Sea remains the same


We reach 1nm WNW of Ceuta Port. Calm seas. Cloud  cover 6/8. 8nm east of Faro Punta Cires.




We row west for 30’. We have been rowing non-stop since leaving Gibraltar. We position ourselves west of the mejillonera and 600m north of the Spanish/Moroccan land border. Tide is now pulling strongly into the Mediterranean, so we decide to lay anchor, recover and wait for the emptying tide before advancing further west wards towards Tangier.  We also expect the wind to freshen SE 20-25 knots.  We expect winds to increase to 30-40 knots in thunderstorms so we prepare a stern drogue to later assist our passage.


The tide changed so we decided to make ready and lift anchor. Winds and an easterly swell start to increase and decide not to leave and stay at present position waiting until dawn for better visibility to continue with our plan. When anchoring we observed rocks and protruding coastline WSW from our position. 

Saturday 6th March


We hear our rudder and some equipment on the weather deck have come loose. We secure equipment and fasten the rudder securely at 0 degrees.


Easterly winds 28-30knots. Conditions inside cabin are getting rough. Not able to write. Spirits are high and we are planning for the next day’s work.


Easterly winds increase to 33 knots. We Radio Trafico Tarifa for a weather update. We are informed that winds force 5-7 blowing from an easterly direction increasing later. Trafico Tarifa asks if we require assistance. We thank them for the offer and add that our anchor is holding fast and that we are OK.


We call Liam on his mobile and ask for a weather update on our position. One source is wrong the other informs us similar report to Trafico Tarifa. Lifting the anchor is now impossible.  If we cut the line we lose a valuable piece of equipment critical to continue on our passage.  


Winds easterly 41 knots, sea very rough; waves 4m+ and breaking, visibility very poor. GPS longitude shows that the anchor is losing bite. Conditions inside the boat are difficult; we’re being tossed around. Boat experiences 3 near capsizes. We are concerned of losing the boat.


We radio Trafico Tarifa and ask for assistance. We are informed that a rescue launch from Salvamiento Maritimo will be deployed from Ceuta and would arrive at our position in approximately 30’


We inform Liam that to save the boat we have initiated a rescue operation.  We have aborted the challenge. Spirits are low. We then make our way to the forward cabin and  grab our immersion suits in wait to be rescued.


We begin to see a yellow beacon 0.5nm from our bow closing on our position. We are instructed by Traficio Tarifa that they cannot see us and to start flashing a light to the direction of the  launch. We do this but due to the large waves and poor visibility the launch sails past us and continues on a westerly direction.  They turn around and under our directions locates us. They haul a towing line and we secure it to our bow eye before cutting loose our anchor. The distance to the rocks had shortened considerably. 


We reach Ceuta Port under tow.


Ship’s log closed


I have to add to the ship’s log that later we were to find out that the port had been declared closed before Salvamiento Maritimo were deployed. Apparently the crew volunteered to go out and search for us. If Salvamiento had had to call for an air rescue we would have lost our boat. We are relieved to be now in a warm hotel in Ceuta, but not happy. We have failed on our first attempt and find it difficult to face Gibraltar later today.

We had been very cautious of the weather and aborted our departure a couple of times due to last minute changes in weather patterns. We extended our cut-off date from the 15th February to the 7th March. We left on the 5th March with feasible conditions, not ideal, but never thinking we’d face such appalling weather. 


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