07/04/2012 09:05 BST

Yacht Race Briton Jane Hitchins Describes Giant Wave

A British woman has described the moment she was crushed by a giant wave during a round-the-world yacht race.

Jane Hitchins was left with injuries including a broken back and broken ribs when the vessel was caught in rough seas about 400 miles off the California coast in the Pacific Ocean.

The yacht, the Geraldton Western Australia, is one of 10 UK-registered 68ft yachts competing in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, which takes place once every two years.

Ms Hitchins, the boat's doctor, was one of three British crew members and one Australian who were injured after the drama last Saturday.

She and 29-year-old Nik Brbora, who lives in London, were transferred by small boat to a US coast guard cutter and taken to Highland General Hospital in Oakland, California.

Ms Hitchins was left with broken ribs, a broken back, a burst lung and a ruptured spleen, and in an interview from her hospital bed, the 50-year-old, from Kent, described the moment the wave hit.

"I saw the most enormous wave, I can only describe it as like a big tongue of water," she said.

"It was quite narrow but very very tall... it was so big it tipped the boat onto its nose and then the wave broke all over the boat.

"Basically I had a big metal bar behind my back and a big metal cage across my front; so yes I was pinned by the water, which was very scary.

"I remember thinking at the time I've broken my back, which as it turned out I had.

"I was underwater and I remember screaming, so I must at least have been breathing out... and as the wave retracted I was sucked out from the space I was squashed in and was rolled down towards the back of the boat.

"I don't know what I hit where, I was grasping onto whatever I could hold.

"I had two lifelines on... and they held me completely so I didn't go over the back of the boat.

"I thought I was drowning... that did go on for an awful long time, I didn't think I was going to come up.

"Yes it was a big wave, but there were thousands of other big waves out there, that one just had our name on it."

She later heard the coast guard ask the yacht's skipper if she would last 24 hours.

"That was pretty scary because I suddenly realised that was serious stuff.

"So I told myself, 'of course I'm going to survive 24 hours'... but that was a frightening question to hear."

She said she was relieved to be alive, but had been "salvaged" in tears by a nurse after realising it could have been a lot worse.

"First of all it's relief that you're alive, then it's relief that you're sprung onto a coast guard vessel, then it's a relief that you're in hospital.

"But I had quite a difficult night last night when I realised, not for the first time that actually... it could have been an awful lot worse."

Two other injured crew members - Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, and Mark Burkes, 47, from Worcestershire - were deemed well enough to stay on the yacht after the wave swept away its steering wheel and mount and some of its communications equipment in storm conditions.

The rest of the 18-strong crew on the boat were said to be uninjured but shaken.

The 40,000-mile race, which features predominantly amateur crews, started in Southampton in July last year and is due to return to the city in July this year.