Sunday, 11 May 2008

Day Zero

Yacht Xylonite. The South Atlantic.
The time was 0350 and the deck watch in the cockpit of the catamaran was about to change. Philip Santern and Guy Bertillon were due to handover to George Petite and Henri Mercier. They had prepared hot drinks for the oncoming watch. Made just as they were accustomed, but with the addition of a white powder that had originated from a capsule. The drinks had been left inside the cabin for the new watch members to drink as they donned their waterproofs.

As usual, Stuart Bryce Edgar was first in the cockpit, doing up his Musto jacket as he sat down. His eyes scanned the horizon.

'Hello folks, weather looks bad doesn't it?'
‘Yes, still one slab in’ replied Bertillon.
The next person to appear was Tonya Noble, who looked stunning even though she’d also just emerged from her sleeping bag. Stuart had been very attracted to her from the start of the race. Which was just as it had been planned; she was the unwitting bait to entice the eldest son of the Rt. Hon. Howard Edgar Bryce to join the crew.
One by one the others came up and after a brief chat the off going watch went below.

Guy paused by the galley area and noticed that all four mugs that had previously held the hot drinks were empty. They may have not been drunk and simply tipped away, but he doubted it.
They busied themselves with getting into the bunks just vacated by the crew now on watch. Bertillon, as skipper had his own berth.

After 20 minutes Bertillon turned on the speaker system into the cockpit. This could be noticed by one of the crew: even if Bertillon didn't sound the alert button, they might notice the red indicator light come on. He could now eavesdrop on any sounds in the cockpit. He could hear the sound of the winds, the sea and the creak of the running rigging. No voices were heard. Next, he moved carefully into the navigation and chart console area and warmed up the CCTV that was situated on the mainmast. Normally this was used to look at the sea conditions but it could also be trained aft to provide a panoramic shot of the cockpit. Camera footage taken with this and e-mailed ashore was always popular with the news programs and was posted onto the dedicated website.
Again the crew in the cockpit might notice this. Bertillon heard nothing to suggest the crew in the cockpit were aware that the camera was on.

He trained the camera aft. All the crew were slumped in various positions, and appeared to be asleep.
He looked up and saw Santern, Lopez, and Forget looking at him.
'Its time' he said.

He went back into his cabin and reached into the depths of his sleeping bag.
His hand emerged with an automatic pistol. Santern had got up and also had a pistol in his hand. They moved carefully into the cockpit. Everyone in the cockpit was still and appeared to be in a deep coma.
Bertillon and Santern each fired single shots into the heads of all the still figures with the exception of Bryce Edgar.

Guy Bertillon looked visibly shaken after this killing spree. He spewed up all over the
cockpit. It was the stocky Belgian who took control during this critical phase,
which were more vital than the previous twenty minutes.

'Come on Guy' he exhorted, 'let's get this sorted'. He then instructed Lance to go over
to the unoccupied hull and retrieve a waterproof bag hidden deep within it.
Meanwhile he deactivated the autopilot and directed Guy to take the helm.

'Bear up' he commanded 'ease the sheets'' he ordered. The two Frenchmen responded.
The catamaran turned into wind. All the sails flapped noisily as the way came off the
boat. The boat rolled uncomfortably with the wind and swell just forward of the
beam.
'Down jib down mainsail' the Belgian ordered.

Guy Bertillon seemed to gather himself together and took charge once more.
'Let's clear the port hull' he said 'Jaques and Jean'
They clambered over to the port hull and soon started bringing back spare supplies,
sails and running rigging. Everything useful was stripped out and taken across to the
starboard hull. An eight-man life raft on the hull was launched into the water, inflated
and then pulled around to the starboard hull.

Lance had been trained for quite a different task.

The bag he had retrieved contained a squashy package of carefully wrapped Semtex
explosive, several remote detonators, tapes and wire. He had retained the detonation cord
within his personal belongings in the starboard hull.

He ran a thin strip of the malleable explosive as far around the transverse beam connecting the two hulls as he could reach. Next, he cut three metre length of plastic hose from a coil that was part of the on-board spares inventory. The hose was then filled with water and the ends plugged. Santern then taped the hose directly over the ribbon of explosive.
When the Semtex was detonated, the explosion would be directed inwards – an implosion. Finally he connected detcord to this and added a remote detonator to complete the job.

He then put on a safety line, and with one of the others holding him he slid over the
beam until he could reach a small patch of carbon fibre out of sight to anyone in the
cockpit of the catamaran. This patch yielded to a couple of whacks with a hammer,
revealing a small electrical post inside the hull. He connected the wire from another
remote detonator to this, and then crawled back to the starboard hull. The lower part
of the transverse beam had already been primed with Semtex during construction, but it
had not been possible to gain access to the upper part of the beam, which contained
more web frames and longitudinals. Also, the advice received from the former Serbian
army demolitions expert had been to blow out the bottom but blow in the top.

All lines and rigging to the port hull were now systematically severed with bolt-croppers. The safety net between the hulls was cut away.

Lance then took the last carefully wrapped article from his bag: the radio remote control for the detonators. He switched the remote on and verified that each of the remote detonators was live. They transmitted a signal back to his control unit.

'All set?' asked Bertillon
Lance nodded in reply.
'Right everyone into the raft.'
The comatose from of Bryce Edgar had to be manhandled into the raft which was tethered to the starboard hull. All the men got into the raft; this was considered the safest refuge away from the explosive blasts that would shortly follow.

'We'll let the wind blow the raft away’ said Bertillon. This was good sense: the raft
was difficult to paddle and it would drift faster than the boat anyway. After about five
minutes the raft was at the extremity of the rope.

'OK Lance, do it' Bertillon ordered.

The American pressed a button on the unit. There was a muffled bang. The explosion made a thin narrow hole on the underside of the beam. He then set off the explosive charge on the top. Another dull thud followed.

As the smoke and fragments were blown away by the wind it was possible to see the result of the first two detonations.
'Looks like a good cut most of the way round' said Santern. Only a few fragments connected the beam to the starboard hull. The two hulls now moved independently of each other.

This was the vital moment: if the beam didn't sever when Lance set off the final charge,
the port hull would flood with water and could turn over or even take down the starboard hull.

'Last charge going off in 5 seconds' This was a larger charge of 5 kgs. All the occupants of
the raft blocked their ears.
Lance counted down and pressed the last switch.

There was a loud crash and the port hull immediately lurched over. The expert's advice had been good: the hull filled rapidly with water and slipped between the waves, taking the beam with it. The bodies of George Petit, Henri Mercier (both from France), Paul Jackson and Jim Johnson (Britain), and Tanya Noble also went down with the port hull of the Xylonite in over 2000 metres of water. Between them they had accumulated over 30 years of blue-water sailing.

The starboard hull settled upright in the water.

After a moments silence Bertillon started pulling on the rope connecting the liferaft to the remaining hull, with a couple of the others. They raft soon reached the remaining hull. There were a few shards and
splinters but with a little work, only close inspection within half a mile or so would reveal the
remaining stump of the transverse beam.

Although there remained some rigging to sort out so the remaining hull could be made to sail,
the catamaran was no more. A single mono hull yacht would now be seen sailing in almost the opposite direction to the fleet of yachts racing around the Antarctic.
It took about 2 hours to get the rig sorted. It was dark when they finished and were ready to get underway again. One more task remained which they completed using flashlights. As the mainsail was gingerly hoisted, several spray cans of coloured fabric paint were produced. The distinctive markings of the Xylonite logo were obliterated, as were the sail numbers. A false number was spayed on using a pre-prepared stencil. The boat’s name on the bow and the stern would be changed in daylight.
The boat would now be called Equal To All.

1 comment:

The Sparkling Thoughts.... said...

Nice to read ur post. Thnx.