St Andrews rowers rescued from the Atlantic Ocean

The two Toms stock up on chocolate bars.
The two Toms stock up on chocolate bars.

“Happy to be alive and safe” - that’s the message from St Andrews University student Tom Sauer whose bid to cross the Atlantic in a wooden boat ended in failure.

The Dutch history undergraduate and a friend, Londoner Tom Fancett, were taking part in the 2011 Atlantic Ocean Rowing Race - they left on December 4 from the Spanish port of San Sebastian de la Gomera in the Canary Islands - and were eight days into the marathon rowing trip when their 25-foot craft sank after being struck by an enormous freak wave.

The duo were following what’s known as the Columbus route, westbound across the mid-Atlantic to Port St Charles, Barbados, when disaster struck and they spent 10 hours in a life raft before eventually being picked up by a cruise ship nearly 500 miles south-west of the islands.

Mr Sauer explained: ”We were ready to change for our shifts and our lovely PS Vita was dealing very well with the waves, which were coming from behind and not causing any problems, but for a few splashes.

“Tom got out from the cabin, as I climbed in. Just as I went for the cabin hatch handle, Tom shouted and a wall of water hit us - capsizing us immediately and flooding the cabin.

‘‘I managed to get out, to find Tom holding on to the hull of the boat. Thank God he was lashed on as the wave that hit us came at a 45-degree angle and was enormous.”

Now in the water, the pair managed to get hold of the emergency beacon although it took about an hour to deploy the life raft, by which time it was pitch black.

Mr Sauer added: ”We made ourselves as comfortable as possible.

‘‘The cold made it very hard for us to stay awake, but Tom made sure an alarm would go off every 30 minutes and shake us into some action.

“At around 5.20am Tom saw the cruise liner and fired off a parachute flare followed by a few more. The ship approached us carefully. The rough conditions meant that it did not want to deploy its own rescue boat and instead came alongside, which was very scary. We eventually managed to climb on with the use of a ladder.

“We are incredibly thankful to the staff of Crystal Serenity for saving our lives. We are both very happy to be alive and safe.”

Falmouth coastguard co-ordinated the rescue after the Team Tom’s emergency beacon was triggered and ascertained that the nearest ship, the Bahamian-registered Crystal Serenity, was 120 miles away.

A spokesperson for St Andrews University said: “We are very glad to hear that the two Toms are safe and well.

‘‘Their endeavour was a perfect example of the St Andrews spirit of courage and ambition.

“We hope the two Toms are undeterred from taking on future challenges and are sure their families will be glad that they are safe and dry for Christmas.”

Mr Sauer was hoping to be the youngest Dutchman to successfully navigate the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat and he and Mr Fancett were taking part in the race to raise money for the Johan Cruyff Foundation.