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DRUM The History

That Fateful Day Twenty Years Ago!

The capsized Drum and crewSimon Le Bon, lead singer of Duran Duran, along with Paul and Mike Berrow commissioned well known yachtsman Skip Novak to build the Maxi yacht Drum with the purpose of taking part in the 1985 Whitbread Round The World Race.

As a warm up to the Whitbread they entered the Fastnet Race for crew training and to test the boat and equipment. August 10th 1985 was the start of the 608 miles Fastnet Race from Cowes, Isle of Wight, around the Fastnet Rock on the south coast of Ireland and back to Plymouth and they had 24 crew on board. Around six hours into the race, a rudder shaft bearing dropped free leaving the entire steering system of the yacht unsupported and this took nearly three hours to fix while the boat was stopped. The crew had no idea just how fortuitous this interruption would later become in saving their lives.

After rounding Dodman Point with gale force headwinds, three reefs in the mainsail and a #5 jib up, with twelve crew down below, six of the them asleep in their bunks, there was a loud bang, followed by another and the boat fell rapidly flat onto her side. Seconds later the air escaped from under the mainsail and the mast, Drum capsized and was upside down. The 14-ton lead keel had fallen off and with the boat upside down, the mast now acted as the keel. The head count was eighteen on the upturned hull and in the water, with the six crew members trapped inside, including Simon.

The yacht Carat, who Drum had just passed, notified the Whitbread Committee over their radio system stating that they thought Drum had lost their rigging because it had disappeared off the horizon. The crew of Carat wanted time dispensation to investigate further. Ironically on board Carat was Magnus Olson one of Drum watch captains who had to forego sailing on the Fastnet as he had a prior commitment to Carat.

Meantime, a retired coastguardsman, walking on the cliffs near Falmouth, actually saw Drum capsize and alerted the Royal Naval Station at Culdrose who scrambled their SAR (search and rescue) helicopter. Within a very short time, probably around 20 minutes, it was hovering over the upturned yacht and the RNLI were also in attendance.

The hero of the dangerous rescue was petty officer Larry Slater, a trained rescue diver who leapt into the sea from the helicopter and dived below the hull and entered through the main hatch to reach the trapped crew. Terry Gould had organised the guys inside the boat and told Larry that they could swim out if he led the way one at a time.

The crew were winched onto the helicopter and air lifted to a field near to Portscatho to a waiting Land Rover which would ferry them to a small hotel near Gerrans. Skip Novak and Pascal Pellat-Finet were the first to be dropped in the field, after jumping from the helicopter Pascal and Novak fell to their knees and both agreed that "never had cow dung looked so beautiful!"

Pascal Pellat-Finet was the worst injured, being trapped by falling sails below deck and with the water rising around him. He was directly under the upturned batteries, which were giving off toxic fumes and leaking acid over his face Had they not taken in the sails to effect the repairs on the steering system, Drum would have rounded Lands End when the capsize happened and then been in very serious danger. At this point with no visual sight of the yacht from land and no subsequent rescue call, they would have been stranded and trapped spending the night in the cold waters. There would surely have been loss of life. We hate to think of what would have happened if this had been at night somewhere south or Ireland in the open ocean. With plummeting water temperatures, no protection for those on the upturned hull and water rising around those below, it might well have been a very different story for the crew that survived Drum.

Leading Scottish businessman and entrepreneur Sir Arnold Clark, the current owner of Drum, has kindly lent the yacht to the crew to take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race and at the same time to help support the worthy cause of the R.N.L.I.

"Thank you very much for saving our lives" somehow feels inadequate for the crew of Drum to say to the men who saved all twenty four lives. It is for this reason why they decided to reform on their twentieth anniversary to once again race the yacht that so nearly cost them their lives. They want to go out and finish the race that they started 20 years ago, have FUN, and swap sea stories over a good few beers.

At the same time they want to heighten awareness of the valuable work of the RNLI and its dedicated team of search and rescue volunteers and to try to raise as much money for the organisation as possible.

Start at Cowes, I.O.W-- 12.00hrs Sunday 7th August
Prize giving night, Plymouth ------Friday 12th August