Fight for life in Atlantic hurricane
2006: Caught in a 100mph hurricane in a rowing boat in the Atlantic Ocean, Mark Stubbs said a silent prayer to God.
Mark, a 40-year-old fireman from Poole, Dorset, was attempting to beat the record for rowing across the Atlantic in his boat Pink Lady when he was hit by a hurricane 300 miles off Cornwall.
Mark had been searching for adventure ever since he left school at the age of 16 and joined the Royal Marines. He was sent to the Falklands a month after his 18th birthday and after losing a friend down there he just wanted to get out of the Army.
He married childhood sweetheart Paula and they had two daughters, Brianna and Victoria. But Mark's search for adventure went on.
He was part of Richard Branson's 15-man team who attempted to break the Atlantic Power Boat Record. It failed 100 miles off Bishop's Rock when the boat hit a container and was holed.
Mark (pictured right) joined the fire service in 1985 and in 1995 he completed Chay Blyth's Ocean Challenge by racing across the Atlantic from Tenerife to Barbados, 2,700 miles in a two-man boat, finishing sixth.
His next challenge was to row across the north Atlantic from St John's Canada to Britain in a record-breaking time. "It took six years to organise the four-man team and it ended in failure when we lost our rudder fittings halfway across in a Force 10 storm," said Mark.
While Mark was on his adventure quest, wife Paula did an Alpha course, which introduces people to the Christian faith, with a friend and started going to church as did his daughters. "I saw a real change in them and went with them a few times," said Mark.
In 2004 Mark was to embark on a challenge which almost cost him his life and changed him forever.
He was ready to try the Atlantic rowing challenge once more, this time with a former SAS man Pete Bray, John Wills and Times journalist Jonathan Gornall.
Setting off from St John's, in August, they encountered icebergs and temperatures of minus ten. Two rowed while the others slept for two-hour shifts.
After 38 days at sea they had travelled 1800 miles and were 13 days up on the record and just 300 miles from England. But the support team warned that Hurricane Alex was coming their way with 100-mph winds.
"A Force 10 storm of 55mph hit first and gave us our roughest night so far. We were committed to finishing and were not going to give up.
"I rang Paula and the girls and told them not to worry. When I put the phone down I knew I was at a point where I could die and I thought to myself: 'I have a beautiful family, my life is full of adventure, but is there more to life than this?' I realised there was something missing deep down in my heart. I said a silent prayer to God: 'If I get out of this alive, I'll go on an Alpha course.'
"One moment it was blue skies on the horizon, the next it was black all around. The hurricane came incredibly quickly. The 100mph winds ripped down the side of the boat and the torrential rain was so hard you could not even look into it," said Mark.
"Each wave was like a 50ft tower of water. It was just like the sea was erupting. We wedged ourselves in the two little cabins. Each wave made the boat pick up speed, turn upside down and fall down the face of the wave. That lasted for five very long hours.
"At 1.30am we rose up a particularly big wave. The boat fell over and there was an explosion of noise as it was broken in half. Water poured into the cabin. We had to let the water fill the cabin, take a deep breath, open the door and swim under the boat and up to the surface," said Mark.
The team managed to get the small life raft and a survival bag out of the boat. But as Mark grabbed it he was washed away from the boat. "That was the closest I came to dying and I felt very alone," he said.
Fortunately a lull in the storm allowed Mark to swim back to the boat. The four of them clambered into the life raft and they called the coastguard for the first time.
"As we sat in the raft it collapsed three or four times when big waves broke over it," said Mark. "Each time we had to push the water out and re-inflate it. We were in the raft for six hours before a container ship came alongside us. The rescue was the most dangerous part. If we had fallen off the 50ft rope ladder into the sea we would have been swept away.
"When we arrived on the ship at Foynes in Ireland, the world's media were waiting for us as it was by now a global story. In the car on the way home from the airport I told Paula and the girls I had promised God I would do an Alpha Course if I survived. The girls started cheering in the back and going crazy."
A few weeks later Mark turned up at an Alpha evening in someone's home where they had a meal, watched a video and talked about religion and values. Mark discovered that church members had been praying for him when he was out in the Atlantic.
After a few weeks Mark attended a church meeting where he became a Christian: "I said a prayer asking God to forgive my sins and come into my life. I then lay on the floor of the church and for two hours I had this awesome feeling – like being covered in warmth and total happiness. I was incredibly happy and contented. Everyone was surprised by the change in me, especially my work colleagues.
"God sent me a hurricane to get my attention. Now my relationship with Him is growing every day and I let God make the choices about my future."
Article first appeared in Alpha News.
Pictured top is skipper Mark Stubbs (second left) with his crew on Pink Lady training for their adventure.