This Cornwall doctor abandoned his yacht and his run of bad luck hasn't stopped

This is Lister Metcalfe, a junior doctor from Cornwall. He’s one of the unluckiest sailors you could meet, and he doesn’t deserve any of what happened to him.

I met Lister in Las Palmas last week. He was there not because of the ARC but because his Bruce Roberts ketch had been salvaged and taken to the boatyard and he’d had an email from one of the salvors’s crew saying, in effect, get out here quickly, my skipper is taking stuff from your boat.

What more could go wrong?


After spending 18 months refitting his boat, Metcalfe was on passage to Lanzarote and was about 15 miles north in a 4m swell when the steering went. The welds on the flange at the bottom of the stock had failed – you can see the repaired flange, which mates with another flange at the top of the rudder blade.

Fortitude rudder

As it was dark, and the boat was making 3 knots downwind on to a lee shore under bare poles, Metcalfe broadcast a Mayday. MRCC Las Palmas sent out a spotter plane and then a rescue helicopter and they diverted a ship to give Metcalfe’s yacht Fortitude a lee.

The ship came too close at one point, scraped all the way down the topsides of Fortitude and cracked the starboard sidedeck. The ship was only at half load and the yacht was in danger of being sucked into the propeller until at the last minute the captain put the ship in neutral.

When the helicopter was overhead, Metcalfe launched his liferaft, newly bought this summer, and had his friend Mike Parkin double-check the knot making it fast to the pushpit. The line streamed out but the liferaft kept going until it disappeared.

Metcalfe showed me the painter and the vacuum pack that the raft was in before it inflated. The end that he says should have been made fast to the liferaft is not sewn and looks as if it has never been knotted – his friend Mike Parkin is showing this in the photo below.


So the three crew, Metcalfe, his father and Mike were told to go to the bow and jump in the water one by one. The rescue diver swam to each in turn and they were hoisted into the helicopter. The skill of the helicopter rescue and subsequent helpfulness of the air crew is a story in itself.

Afterwards, insurers Pantaenius chartered a plane to look for the boat but spotted nothing. A French Canadian yachtsman did find Fortitude, though, and took her in tow.

A salvage claim against the insurers and a dispute about which items the yachtsman could take followed. Metcalfe says his boat was stripped: warps were taken, gear from on deck, personal effects such as computer and cash and wires of electronics were cut and these items were also taken.

When I met Metcalfe he was in Las Palmas trying to put his boat back in order. Time and money, though, has run out. He told me needs to get back to start work early next year and that the dream of crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean is over. He will, he adds, have to put Fortitude up for sale.

Lister Metcalfe and his mate Mike Parkin are lovely guys. What’s happened to them is desperately sad. That’s the abridged version of it, but there are a few more twists – we’ll have the full story in our February issue.