Sailor John Glennie shares with YBW what it’s like to survive an extraordinary journey of shipwreck, storms and starvation

In a survival situation, knowledge, attitude and

being prepared are paramount. If you are prepared, that pretty much takes care

of the attitude – almost.

At 40.5 degrees latitude S, 179 degrees E longitude

off New Zealand in the middle of winter we should have been heading for Chile

through the Great Southern Ocean.

A massive storm on the east coast of New Zealand’s

north island created a 60ft vertical wall of water that turned our boat upside


My 40ft trimaran Rose-Noelle

capsized in a never-never land where no hope of survival existed. No ships, no

planes and no fish. It’s a marine desert. Normally no one escapes capsizing down

there. There virtually is no hope. On top of that, no one knew where my

three-crew members and me were.

We spent the next four months drifting in what

should have been famously strong winds and currents in the Great Southern Ocean

– known as the Roaring Forties. They should have taken us across 5,000 miles of

violent waters to Chile in South America but the wind, miraculously, turned

around and brought us back to New Zealand.

To escape it all, I would go to that place in my

mind or imagination where I was already out of it and snuggled up in my bed at

home. I had learnt to do it during cold winter nights out training on my bike

for road cycling. I would hit ‘the wall’ and still have 10 miles to get home.

I did it not because I had been taught it, but

because it took me away to another place and the miles went by unnoticed.

I had been doing it the night before we capsized,

only four days into our journey to Tonga, and did the same thing through the

first 40 days adrift.

We had no fluid; apart from the four ounces of 7Up

and Coca Cola we had a day – enough to fill a small spice jar.

It rained on the 40th day just after I

had made a water catchment system. Then another 40 days with as little as two

teaspoons of cold uncooked rice a day for food.

With our boat having been upside down the entire

time she started to turn into a floating reef and the mollusks that had grown attracted

Kingfish, which we were able to gaff.

Towards the end of the third 40 days, we seemed to

have become more in harmony with our environment for I wrote in my log: “Well,

it’s 116 days today. Is that enough? Can I go home now?”

A few days later we were out of it.

In that whole four months adrift I never had one doubt

I wouldn’t get out of it. The only thing I didn’t know was how. We

survived 119 days on the upturned Rose-Noelle

before finally being blown ashore on Great Barrier Island near Auckland.

My best advice to prepare for a situation such as

mine is to lie down in your bed and turn your boat upside down. Where would you

sleep? Will the water in the tanks leak out the air breathers?

Make sure you fasten the hatches inside your vessel,

think about them upside down and tie everything on strings so they don’t wash

away, even the dish rags.

And finally, stay with the boat.

You can buy John Glennie’s new book ‘Playboys of the South Pacifichere.

Related articles