Single-handed sailor Mervyn Wheatley was taking part for the fifth time in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) to raise funds for The Royal Marines Charity when he encountered hurricane force winds and massive 15-metres waves in which his boat was capsized.
Although it righted itself, it was full of water, the steering had failed, all the electrics had ceased and she was taking on water. He had skippered several legs in the Clipper Round the World Race and this would have been his 19th Atlantic Crossing.
At the age of 73, the immensely experienced skipper with more than 400,000 miles beneath his keel, made the ‘traumatic decision’ to sink his Formosa 42, Tamarind, to prevent a hazard to other ships and to accept the hospitality of the Cunard Ship the Queen Mary 2.
He was rescued thanks to “excellent seamanship” by a tender from the ship, which had been enroute to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Southampton.
The Ocean Cruising Club wished to recognize the exemplary seamanship shown by Captain Wells and his crew, so invited him to their Annual Awards Dinner aboard the SS Great Britain where he and Mervyn were reunited for the first time since the Queen Mary 2 docked in Halifax. Both their wives were among the many who applauded as Mervyn presented Captain Wells with an OCC Special Award in thanks for his timely actions.
Mervyn gave an eloquent and entertaining account of the rescue attempts and how his vessel managed to T-bone the Queen Mary 2 then scrape along her sides, gouging tracks along the perfect paint until a tender was launched to pluck him from the sea. He then enjoyed the full hospitality of the luxury liner, which he admitted he could get used to.
After he received his award, Captain Wells warned the 135 attendees at the OCC Dinner not to tempt fate in order to obtain similar favour from the Cunard lines.
He said it was not worth the risk. He continued to note that Mervyn Wheatley is so experienced that it was a pleasure to come to his aid. Captain Wells, Master of the Queen Mary 2 said, “I am honoured to be reunited with Mervyn. He is a highly experienced mariner and was hugely unlucky to have been hit by such a large wave, I was extremely glad we could help get him back to shore safely.”