Gordon McGuire, skipper of VOR yacht Team News Corp, recalls the heart-stopping moments/hours on leg 4 of the VOR. Interview by Guy Swindells
It was the most scary thing in my life. I have to say I feared for my life and I feared for the other 11 guys I was responsible for when driving. When you go to sleep, you go into total denial because otherwise you can’t sleep. You live in this constant world for two weeks. It is unbelievable.
Scenario: evening watch, last half hour, it’s getting dark, last light, everything’s getting really dusty, it’s foggy and you’ve got about 400 yards visibility. You’re looking at your watch and you’ve got about 20 minutes to go. You’re thinking, ‘ah, I’m just over this.’ It’s blowing 35 knots, you’re doing 25 knots of boat speed, you’re just hanging on the wheel, you haven’t wiped out, everything is under control, it’s just another day at the office.
The navigator sticks his head up the hatch and says ‘iceberg on the bow.’ You go ‘how far?’ He says ‘one mile.’ One mile at 25 knots, you don’t even want to think about it. It’s like three minutes and you’re on top of it. The heart starts going and the whole thing is now elevated to a level that you just don’t need. It’s the end of your watch – you’re over it. The sweat is running down the back of your neck, your feet and hands are like ice blocks, your face is raw red from the salt spray and all of a sudden you are being told ‘iceberg on the bow, one mile.’
Okay, when you’re driving in those conditions we have what we call a 10-degree envelope to steer in. You can either go up five degrees or down five degrees and either side of that is a wipe out. So you are quite limited about where you can steer, so you have to react. You have to react instantaneously. Once you get the call, ‘iceberg’ you react. So we react. We come up five degrees and the navigator disappears, goes back to the radar. Comes back up, ‘second iceberg, on the port bow.’ ‘You’re kidding? Is it the same iceberg?’ ‘Don’t know.’ Down he goes. The clock is ticking. You’re actually within a minute of arriving in this scenario and you’re actually not sure that these blips on the radar are one iceberg or two icebergs. Is there a gap between them? How big is the gap? All you have is 400 yards visibility in front of you. You arrive: it happens to be two icebergs, but in the middle is a whole pile of melted ice. From the size of something you would drop in your drink, literally, to the size of a bus. It looks like someone has just frapped an iceberg right in your path.
You have a guy standing on your shoulder and he calls you, ‘up, down’ and you basically drive through this pack ice, picking out the big bits to miss as the small bits just bounce along the side of the boat and out the back. All the time in your mind, you can remember that somewhere, someone in school trying to tell you how much ice there is under the water, but you can’t remember how much, and you don’t want to. Why would you want to remember that 80 per cent is under the water and you only see the little bit on the top?
You look at your watch, and there is five minutes before the end of your watch and you think ‘I’m over this, I just don’t need this in my life.’ And all the time the guy on your shoulder is going ‘up five, up five, down ten, down ten, oh my God, up five.’ And I say, ‘please leave out the expletives, just give me the numbers because ‘oh my God’ doesn’t help anybody. And all the time, you’re doing 25 knots, the hammer is down fully, you are just rocking down. You are just thinking, ‘if we hit something bigger than six or eight feet across, then we will compromise the hull and go down.’