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Emotional reunion for rowers and families

 

August 10 2004

The Western Mail

FOUR British rowers who cheated death when they were plucked from heavy seas after their boat was ripped apart by a freak wave yesterday had an emotional reunion with their families.
Skipper of the Pink Lady, Mark Stubbs, and his three crew - Welshman Pete Bray, Jonathan Gornall and John Wills - flew into Southampton Airport where they were hugged and kissed by wives and girlfriends after their traumatic rescue early on Sunday.

A 60ft rogue wave off the south coast of Ireland smashed into the craft just 300 miles from the finish line in the men's attempt to row across the Atlantic west to east.

The ferocity of the wave broke the craft in two, plunging the men into the water in heavy seas.

Former SAS diver Mr Bray, 48, from Bridgend, twice dived into the broken craft to get the crew's life raft and survival kit.

Yesterday his fellow crew members said he had been a hero to them all.

But for the families waiting in the arrivals lounge of the airport the most important thing was that their loved ones were safe after their ordeal.

Mr Stubbs's wife Paula, 39, a school nurse, said she could not wait to get her hus-band back to their home in Poole, Dorset, so the family, including daughters Brianna, 13, and Victoria, 10, could welcome him back in private.

"I am so glad for him to be home and that he's back safe and well. I have missed him awfully and we all feel fantastic," she said.

Brianna said, "Having him back will be nice - just to spend some time with him. He is not one to give up because of what has happened. I am sure he would do it again."

The teenager, who is a keen rower herself and recently joined the team before their transatlantic record attempt to become the youngest person to row across the English Channel, added that she had not been put off by what had happened to her father.

Mr Bray's brother Clinton and his girlfriend Maria Newton also welcomed home the men.

Mr Bray said he had always had confidence his brother, an outdoor pursuits instructor in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, would survive.

"I know Peter and he is a survivor and I knew he would come through it - he is that kind of a figure.

"He has been there, seen it, done it and got the T-shirt. Diving in to get the liferaft was very Pete."

Mr Wills' wife Stacey, 26, from Farnham, Surrey, said she was relieved and excited to see her 33-year-old husband back safely.

She said, "When I was told what happened I was feeling very sick and then I went on autopilot.

"I am absolutely gutted the boat has gone but relieved they are safe. It's just fantastic to have him home."

Times journalist Mr Gornall, 48, from London was met by his girlfriend, a fellow Times journalist Emily Davies, 27, who said a crate of champagne and some new clothes were awaiting her partner.

In a press conference after the plane landed, former Royal Marine Mr Stubbs paid tribute to Falmouth coastguard, the RAF Nimrod which flew over their position and indicated they had seen them and the skipper of the Scandinavia Reefer who showed outstanding seamanship to come to their rescue and position his freighter to get the men off their liferaft.

Mr Bray then joked that after they got on board, the skipper of the freighter asked them if they wanted to watch a film.

Mr Bray said he asked if the captain had the Hollywood film The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney where a trawler is lost at sea with all hands because Mr Gornall had not seen it.

"The skipper said, 'Yah,' and so we watched it."

On a more serious note, Mr Gornall relived the moment that the wave hit.

"We had been used to bad weather throughout the whole trip but these were conditions that you could not row in. We were lying in the cabin listening to the waves coming in. Most of the waves were benign and went with the boat but there were rogue waves," he said.

"We then heard one coming sounding like an express train and then there were twin detonations and the next thing I was in the water and I knew something catastrophic had happened.

"I thought at the time 'I do not think I can hold my breath much longer'."

Mr Gornall then said that Mr Bray had saved his life by making sure his immersion suit fitted properly and did not leak in-between diving down to get the liferaft.

"For me and the others, he is a bit of a hero," he said.

Mr Stubbs added that he was not disappointed they had missed out on the record so close to the final destination.

"We did our best," he said. "We wanted this record but all that mattered to me is that we are safe and I have seen Paula and the girls."

Mr Gornall added, "Sitting in the liferaft we did not think we had lost the record but we had won the greatest prize of all - life."

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