Edinburgh rower rescued after capsize ‘in middle of Atlantic’

Fenella McAlister and Martin Cruickshank on-board the rowing boat in the Atlantic. Picture; SWNS
Fenella McAlister and Martin Cruickshank on-board the rowing boat in the Atlantic. Picture; SWNS
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A brother and sister who attempted to row across the Atlantic have told how a freak wave caused their boat to capsize in the middle of the ocean.

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The seafaring siblings embarked on their voyage from Puerto Morgan in Gran Canaria to the Caribbean on November 29. Picture; SWNS

The seafaring siblings embarked on their voyage from Puerto Morgan in Gran Canaria to the Caribbean on November 29. Picture; SWNS

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Fenella McAlister, from Kirkliston, and Martin Cruickshank set out to row the Atlantic in the adventure of a lifetime but it nearly ended in disaster.

The pair were on a 3000-mile trip to reach the Caribbean when their boat capsized in rough seas, leaving them adrift without power in the open ocean.

The seafaring siblings embarked on their voyage from Puerto Morgan in Gran Canaria to the Caribbean on November 29.

Fenella McAlister(R) is helped aboard the merchant ship Glyfade after needing to be rescued when the rowing as damaged in the Atlantic. Picture; SWNS

Fenella McAlister(R) is helped aboard the merchant ship Glyfade after needing to be rescued when the rowing as damaged in the Atlantic. Picture; SWNS

But their journey was scuppered last Wednesday when their rudder broke and a huge wave struck their boat 900 nautical miles from their destination of Martinique.

The pair were taken back to Gibraltar following the “traumatic” ordeal and Mrs McAlister has now returned to her home in Edinburgh.

The mother-of-two said: “During the night we heard a loud ‘bang’. I ended up on my back in the cabin when the wave hit.

“My brother said we were looking through the front hatch into the ocean as the boat had tipped over on its side 45 degrees, but I don’t remember as I had blanked that from my mind.

“I dread to think what would have happened if we had been on deck. I’m shaking just thinking about it.

“At six in the morning we found half of the rudder was gone. The electrics were fried completely.”

Mrs McAlister, 57, said they were faced with the dilemma of either attempting to drift to Martinique without a rudder or using the emergency distress beacon to summon help.

In the midst of heavy seas and with six weeks away from their destination, they pressed the panic button and sent out the call for help.

The signal was picked up by the French Coastguard, who contacted the merchant ship the Glyfade, sailing 40 miles away.

The crew turned round and headed to the brother and sister’s position using GPS.

Mrs McAlister said she was “very excited” to see the ship on the horizon -- as they had seen no ships for weeks -- but boarding the vessel was yet another challenge amid massive waves and gusts of wind.

Mrs McAlister said: “It took about two hours [to rescue us] and the ship was circling us throwing rope lines and life rings, but that wasn’t going to work because we were afraid of getting pulled into the propeller.

“Then they told us to swim, but there was no way I was doing that. In the end they put down a rope ladder and we were able to scramble up.”

She added: “One minute Martin would be up beside me and then the waves would plunge him and the boat way, way down again.

“We were terrified of being caught between the two boats as well. But we made it.”

Mrs McAlister praised the Filipino crew for their timely rescue and said they were well treated aboard the ship.

She added: “They were so amazing. They gave us a tour on board, and we had a barbecue and a karaoke.

“We were a bit disappointed because we didn’t achieve what we set out to do, but I’m relieved we came through it in the end.

“The best thing about the experience was the kindness of strangers and the support of our family and friends. We still had a blast.”

Brother Mr Cruickshank, 56, who lives in Croatia and was a volunteer fighter with the Croatian army in 1991, was modest about his role in the adventure -- which raised £5,500 for Mary’s Meals.

He said: “We set out to achieve something and we failed.”