Antarctic team abandons lifeboat


SURVIVING three harrowing capsizes in a force 10 storm, the Irish Antarctic expedition has been forced to abandon its 23 foot lifeboat, Tom Crean in heavy seas in the Southern Ocean.

"We're disappointed, tired, but there was no decision to be made," skipper Paddy Barry, said yesterday. He was speaking on a satellite phone link to Dublin from aboard the team's support yacht, Pelagic.

All five sailors and mountaineers were recovering on Pelagic with their other team members last night, after witnessing the sinking of their tiny craft. The crew were some 374 miles from their destination in South Georgia, but intend to continue on course with their recreation of the 1916 Shackleton polar rescue on the Pelagic, in spite of further gales forecast for this week.

The storm force 10 winds hit the wooden boat just a week after setting off from Elephant Island on the 800 mile journey to South Georgia.

The Kilkenny built craft was named Tom Crean, after the Kerryman who accompanied Shackleton on board the original lifeboat in 1916.

The first of three capsizes in 24 hours was caused by a wave which hit "like a hammer" on Saturday, according to joint leader and Everest mountaineer, Frank Nugent, of Dublin. All five were in the minute cabin at the time, having heaved to with a sea anchor or drogue in 50 to 60 knot winds.

Miraculously, none of the crew was lost overboard when the boat rolled. Such were the conditions in a region where the world's worst winds can help to whip up confused and freezing seas - that the five had to wait another 14 hours after the last capsize before Pelagic was able to approach.

A weather fax from the US indicating further storms in the next week forced the expedition's hand, Paddy Barry said.

"After another area of low intensity approaching, a low of 960 millibars over the Falklands could have blasted the Crean out of it in the next few days," Barry said. At latitude 58 degrees 49 south and 44 degrees 11 west, the expedition's climbing and sailing gear was transferred to Pelagic. The lifeboat was then sunk to avoid alarm in case it was found floating with no one on board.

"We lost a boat but we are all alive," Jamie Young, transatlantic sailor, said. "We will try to attain our other objectives as far as we can."

The team intend to land on South Georgia and complete the 30 mile snow and ice traverse which Shackleton made, when he and five others set out to rescue their 22 crew when his ship, Endurance was crushed in pack ice.

The Mayo sailor and construction manager, Jarlath Cunnane, who oversaw the building of the Tom Crean in a yard in Tullaroan, Co Kilkenny, said that he was "sad after all the effort", and particularly sad for the FAS team, which had worked on the boat under the guidance of Michael Kennedy of Dunmore East. "We appreciate what they did," he said. "We always knew there was going to be a risk, and we needed luck. We got plenty of it at the beginning, but it's not the first ship that ever sunk here."