In 1979 Nick Ward fulfilled his boyhood ambition of taking part in the Fastnet Race when he was invited to crew on the 30 foot yacht Grimalkin. Although the race started in near-perfect conditions, on the third day the 303 participating yachts were suddenly caught in a deadly storm that had formed so rapidly and unexpectedly it wasn’t forecast. By the end of the largest rescue operation ever launched in peace time, five yachts had sunk and 15 sailors had lost their lives. Two of those who died were from Grimalkin, and were it not for Nick’s remarkable feat of survival he would have joined them.
What makes Nick’s story particularly fascinating is that he was abandoned by his crewmates. In the treacherous seas kicked up by the storm, Grimalkin suffered several terrifying knock-downs. Fearful that the small yacht would founder, some crewmembers became desperate to launch the life raft and abandon ship. Nick was against this, having been taught that you should only ever step up to your life raft. As long as the yacht is still afloat, the chances of survival are better onboard her than in a small rubber vessel intended to be a last resort. In the midst of this frantic discussion the towering seas knocked down Grimalkin yet again, leaving Nick and crewmate Gerry Winks unconscious. When Nick came to he was in the water, attached to the boat by his harness. Summoning all his resolve he managed to haul himself back onboard, only to make the shocking discovery that he and Gerry were alone. When he saw that the life raft was missing, he slowly came to the realisation that his crewmates had not only abandoned ship, but abandoned him and Gerry as well.
It took 26 years before Nick finally felt able to tell his story, encouraged and supported by co-author Sinead O’Brien. The result is Left for Dead and it’s so well written that I felt as if I was onboard Grimalkin, right there with Nick as he battled both physically and emotionally to survive 14 gruelling hours in the most terrifying conditions possible at sea. It’s not only a gripping account of remarkable endurance, but also an extremely personal and honest attempt to understand what happened and to forgive his crewmates for their decision.
If you like sailing or true stories of survival you won’t be disappointed by Left for Dead.