06/02/2014 03:33 EDT | Updated 08/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Sailors survive 32 days adrift before limping into Halifax

Charlie Holland, a British sailor, and his Thai partner, Somporn Chaingmanee, say they're lucky to be alive after they ran out of fuel and broke the topmast of their boat amid a wild Atlantic Ocean.

The couple set off on a five-day trip on the Schwalbe from the Bahamas to Bermuda on April 30. They would spend 32 days on dangerous seas before limping into sunny Halifax harbour on Sunday.

Expected winds did not blow after they left the Bahamas and the boat drifted. They turned south, then north, then decided to try for Halifax, but ran into a vicious wind. 

“Winds in every bloody direction,” Holland said Monday.

Waves came over the bow as they ran out of diesel. They were adrift, hundreds of kilometres from land.  

The couple have sailed every ocean over the last decade on an 87-year-old vessel, but never in such peril. Holland saw death was a real possibility.

“Dangerous to the point where I feel confident enough to give a description of paralyzing fear,” he said.

“My main concern was the forces of wind and water against the boat would just break it. Something would break, crack and render, and it would go down.”

Chaingmanee said that at first it was just a little windy, and a little scary. But the wind picked up. She suggested taking the sail down, but Holland thought it would be fine. The overnight wind wrecked the sail and broke the topmast. 

"I cannot remember it all, because everything happened so fast and was really scary," she said. "The waves were so strong and really high."

She said they became exhausted from constantly struggling to keep above water in the black night. "I believed that the boat was going to sink," she said. "I told Charlie, 'I want to go home.'"

Passing cargo ships helped

They were without fuel for four days. Passing cargo ships provided food, water and some fuel. It was enough to power the ship into Halifax.

Holland said sailing down the calm harbour, past a yacht race and into a downtown berth, was "fabulous."

"I see land. Oh, I'm safe now. Happy to see the land again," he said. "Civilization! Amazing. Fantastic."

Safe at harbour, Holland and Chaingmanee are figuring out how to address the roughly $75,000 of damage done to the vessel.

They hope to stay in Canada while they figure out their situation.