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81-year-old Shady Lady lost to the deep between Indonesia and Darwin

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 30 Aug 2011
Shady Lady in happier days .. .

He had followed the route many times before, and he enjoyed the annual Darwin to Ambon Race and Rally just as much in 2011 in Shady Lady - but he never could have guessed how soon he was about to lose his precious 81-year-old boat.

When Peter Charles from Bundaberg, skippering the Lidgard Cutter yawl, arrived in Indonesia, he was delighted to accept a third prize in the cruising division, on behalf of Shady Lady and his crew, Judy O'Donoghue and Mark Clancy, also from Bundaberg. The prize was presented by the Head of Tourism Office of the Maluku Province, Ibu Florence

Things couldn't have been better. They had followed the rhumb line through the Arafura Sea to the Indonesian island of Sermata, then through the Banda Sea, passing close to the Island of Damar, and then on to Ambon.

The boat had had an impeccable history. In 1937 it won the Trans-Tasman and held the record for 12 years. It had also done a lot of Whitsunday rallies over the past 17 years, winning sometimes. However, the boat was new to Peter.

'I’ve only had the boat about a year and this will be my first major race on her,' he told race organisers before the start.

After enjoying Indonesia, the Shady Lady set off for the return journey to Darwin. Judy Donoghue was replaced by Catherine Clancy, Mark's wife, for the trip back. All was going well for a couple of days until one morning Mark Clancy headed into the galley to make a coffee - only to find water gushing in to the boat at an alarming rate.

Very quickly the heartbreaking decision had to be made to abandon the yacht and, within ten minutes, the three were in a dinghy watching Shady Lady sink.

'I couldn’t watch it,' Peter Charles told reporters later, 'I looked away and, when I looked back up, she was gone.

'After 81 years on top of the water,' he added wryly, 'trust Peter Charles to lose it.'

It took just 30 minutes for the Shady Lady to sink into the depths of the ocean, 290 nautical miles north of Darwin and to a depth of 600 metres.

The rapid descent of the yacht meant the crew members had only a few minutes to gather belongings including their passports, camera and their lucky rubber duck.

'We lost the trophy and money from the race,' Mr Charles said. 'We lost everything.'

It was shortly after 7.00 am on August 13 when the trio activated an EPIRB and spent almost four hours bobbing in the ocean before seeing their first sign of life – a Customs aircraft.

An air sea rescue plane arrived shortly after, doing circuits around the 2.6m-long dinghy until four hours later, when an oil rig support vessel, the Go Canopus, travelling from Singapore to Tahiti, arrived to rescue the crew.

During their eight-hour wait in the ocean, the trio had a brush with two sharks, one that kept swimming and another that smashed into the underside of the aluminium-bottomed dinghy before swimming away.

After their rescue, the three sailors spent several days aboard the Go Canopus, whose crew dropped them at Thursday Island.

Catherine Clancy, a novice sailor, observed later that she had had more excitement than she expected, but, 'We did have some fantastic days of sailing before the yacht sank – it was spectacular.'

Owing to their rapid escape from the yacht, it will probably never be known exactly what caused the demise of Shady Lady.

Despite the ordeal, Peter Charles and Mark Clancy are undaunted. They are already planning the next Darwin to Ambon Race and Rally.

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