Interview with Mervyn Wheatley

ACROSS THE ATLANTIC AGAIN – Mervyn Wheatley and Tamarind

By Jill Southwood

Photo by Billy Black

On New Years Eve before the stroke of midnight and the beginning of 2013 Mervyn and his wife Penny agreed that he would attempt his 4th OSTAR. From his home port of the River Yealm, near Plymouth, England, Mervyn’s meticulous planning began, which would pay off over and again for this enormous challenge.

Having owned Tamarind for 15 years and covered some 110,000 miles, many singlehanded, the boat was well set up to cross the Atlantic again.

A superb start saw Mervyn first across the line accompanied by the music of The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines at full volume!

Inspite of winds against him, and poor weather conditions most of the way, Mervyn’s race was going very well until he approached the dreaded Grand Banks. Both the wind vane and his autopilot stopped working. Thirteen years earlier, during the 2000 OSTAR, a similar problem occurred. Mervyn hand-steered Tamarind for 13 days until he arrived at the finish having lost 28 pounds in body weight. This was not an experience he wished to repeat.

There was a chance of putting into St. John’s, Newfoundland but, with still 1000 miles to reach the Newport finish line, it could have made more sense to turn back across the Atlantic for home. Eventually he managed to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia, for repairs and a very warm and helpful welcome. Unfortunately, he had a nasty accident on the way, falling and breaking his nose. No repairs carried out on that apart from mopping up blood in the cockpit! After 24 hours, he was able to set off again having also bought a new CD player – no music aboard was unthinkable. His surprise ration packs, prepared by Penny, kept him going throughout his hardships.

Photo by Billy Black

The most desolate part of the journey was crossing the Grand Banks. It was very cold and wet with dense fog for four days. He experienced variable winds from all directions. One morning they started from the east at dawn, veered through 360 degrees, and become easterly again by evening. It was impossible to see anything, no land, no ship, no human being – just thick fog. If they hit something, they would hit it and so be it.

At last with about 10 miles to go the wind shifted giving Mervyn a very good run to the finish line after 30 days, 4 hours and 59 minutes. Royal Marines are very rugged but this race is extremely tough mentally. You may not see another human for over a month. You probably don’t know where the other competitors are. You are very, very alone on a vast and seemingly endless ocean.

Photos by Billy Black