Left For Dead

Left For Dead by Nick Ward and Sinead O'Brian

Left For Dead by Nick Ward with Sinead O'Brian

The Works
What I paid:
£3 (Full Price: £8.99)

The storm-stricken 1979 Fastnet race was a disaster, leaving fifteen sailors and three rescuers dead after the largest sea rescue operation in peace-time. One of the stricken yachts, the Grimalkin, capsized and the crew abandoned it, leaving two of them for dead. Nick Ward survived.

This is Nick Ward’s retelling of the race, his survival, and his entry into the 2009 Fastnet race thirty years later to confront his fears. Much of the book is about the setup, and then the consequences, while the twelve hours spent on the yacht with his dying crewmate are a comparatively short part, even though it is the core of the story. Exciting isn’t the right word for those hours. Harrowing, perhaps, might be or even horrific.

The story has a very slow start, talking about his background and describing yachting practice and seamanship, but once the race starts it draws you in. All the set-up is necessary to understand what is going on and where things are in the yacht without slowing the retelling at the critical times. Afterwards it keeps you reading for the questions Nick raises about how he was abandoned, his emotions and trying to settle the after-effects of the accident.

I am reviewing the second edition, which also includes a much longer section at the end that deals with the fallout of the original being published in 2007.  It contains further details of contact with the navigator of one of the ships that saved him, the unfortunate response of the other three survivors who disliked the original book, and ending with his 2009 fastnet entry.

There are disquieting questions left from the book, but I’m not sure whether the author had the answers at the time of writing. For example, it raises the issue of whether the crew who fled in the lifeboat had done anything to raise an alert that there were still people on the boat, which is never answered. I had to do secondary research to confirm that their accounts state they did.

Physically, it is a chunky paperback with a dark blue cover showing the sea. One of the things that brings the book to life are the three sections of colour photos within, showing the crew, and ships, and more.

The only book I can really compare this to is Touching the Void, Joe Simpson’s account of his near death at Siula Grande. It doesn’t have quite that passion, but it is an intense read and a miracle Nick Ward survived.

For anyone who follows real-life survival stories, memoirs, and similar, this is a read that is slow to start, but once it does it is hard to put down.