At daylight, with Venture Independence to windward, we started up the Perkins one final time and brought our vessel alongside. The ship was returning to Gibraltar with empty tanks, so its freeboard was 100 feet or more. Although the conditions had improved, the seas were still running 30 feet, making it nearly impossible to jump from our vessel to the rope ladders that had been dropped for us. A cargo net was lowered to transfer the sick and injured, but after seeing three of our crew temporarily submerged as the huge ship rolled in the swell, the owner and I decided to climb the rope ladder. Timing our jump just right, we made it onto the ladder and then watched our boat drop 30 feet under us. As we climbed, the ladder swung out 15 feet from the steel hull and then came crashing back as the ship continued to roll. We’d climb 10 feet, hang on for the crash, then climb another 10 feet. The ship’s crew was above us yelling encouragement, and we finally made it to the top where we kissed the salty deck and met our rescuers.
Although the captain tried to tow the doomed sailboat, its lines soon broke and it disappeared over the horizon. During the next few days we were treated royally by the mostly Spanish crew as the ship headed to the Azores to drop us off. It was a time of great reflection, as I realized how close we had come to not making it. But it was also a time to think about what went wrong and what we could have done differently. While this story had a happy ending, it taught me several lessons about boating that I would live by for years to come. I’ve also made an effort to learn to use today’s technology to help avoid life-threatening situations in the first place. But ultimately, I learned that when you venture offshore, no one is more responsible for your safety than yourself.