Toronto man makes narrow escape after abandoning ship in the Atlantic

The trip of a lifetime across the Atlantic Ocean ended abruptly for a Toronto man last week when stormy weather forced him and his crew to abandon ship.

Neil Hetherington, a crew member and CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said he’s “terribly” disappointed by the outcome of his voyage on the Boundless, a 38-foot cutter. None of the four people on board was injured.

The Boundless set sail from Baddeck, N.S. on June 5 with the aim of reaching the south coast of Portugal, a 6,600 kilometre trip, a month later.

Hetherington had gone on the trip to take on a challenge, disconnect from the world and see the beauty of the ocean. The goals were lofty, but they were not to be.

Oil tanker rescued captain and crew

In a phone interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Monday, Hetherington said the Boundless was in the middle of the ocean when a storm hit.

Speaking from the bridge of the tanker, about 600 kilometres east of New York City, Hetherington said the Boundless encountered strong winds and waves about six metres high.

“We had an excellent sail from Baddeck going over a thousand miles and were right in the middle of the Atlantic. A wave hit the boat in a fashion that snapped our rudder. The rudder is made of aluminum, it’s a heavy duty aluminum rudder, and it snapped in half and it was parallel to the surface of the water. We knew at that point that we were in complete distress.”

Geoff Fairbank, the captain, and the crew, which includes Hetherington, Marty Cameron and Alan Dalquen, called out a MayDay. The Ardmore Sealifter, an oil tanker, about 30 kilometres south of the boat, changed course and the captain turned the 215 metre tanker to make it parallel with the sailboat. Then a ladder rope was dropped down about 12 metres.

“We had seconds to hustle ourselves on board,” Hetherington said.

“Shortly after that, the mast of our boat hit the hull of the tanker and was snapped. But all of the crew are safe. It was unexpected, it was unplanned for, but we were prepared. We knew what to do in this type of event. It’s just been terribly disappointing.”

As for the Boundless, it was lost at sea.

Years put into organizing trip

Now, with some to time to reflect on the trip as he looks out on the vastness of the ocean, Hetherington said he feels guilty for “the pain and the distress” that he caused his family.

He said Fairbank, his cousin, worked for years to organize the trip and it was all for naught.

When Hetherington called home in the midst of the near disaster, he spoke with his brother.

“I tried to be as matter of fact as I could. I said: ‘We’re abandoning ship. The vessel is lost. And we expect a rescue effort to begin immediately and to hopefully finish within the next few hours.’ They had a few hour period where there was obvious concern.”

In an earlier interview with Metro Morning in late May, Hetherington said: “Every precaution that we could take, we have taken.”

At that time, Hetherington noted that it was a good thing that a lot of cargo ships were out there on the ocean.

He didn’t know how right he was.

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