Quick note from Jo and Team F8 before you read through Randall’s report from Moli. First – you should be aware that this whole thing was typed out 160 characters at a time. Team F8 then had to copy and paste each section to build this and upcoming posts. Hence the slightly stilted langage. Second – as Randall always does, he’s trying hard to be real with all his readers about the experience, what happened and how he’s feeling. Know that I just communicated with him and we’re back to jokes.
Team F8 and I will continue to copy and paste the 160 characters until we fix or replace the iridium. Sadly no photos until then but I’ve asked him to make sure he keeps taking pictures.
Enjoy the dramatic read! Jo
Date: February 19
Position: 46 05S 61 15E.
Course/Speed: ENE6 Wind: NW: 20.
Sky: nearly clear.
Temp: 57! Feels like summer!
I pulled the working jib and put up the storm jib at 4pm. Winds had increased to a steady 30 – 35. Remarkable however were the seas, steep and breaking and far larger than one would expect from 35 knots. The dominant swell was west with a smaller train from the northwest and another, inexplicably, from the south. I put Mo on port tack, taking the dominant swell slightly on port quarter and hunkered down to watch.
At 1900 I was typing here in the pilot house when Mo was knocked flat to starboard. Water came pouring in the starboard pilot house dorade vent, the only one I’ve left open so we can have at least a modicum of fresh air below. The laptop was soaked but miraculously survived. By this time it was dark and solid cloud cover, there was no visibility at all save the faint white of a wave just before it hit the boat. I rigged a port-side sheet on the storm jib so we could gybe and take the swell to starboard, but without visibility and knowing there were three trains, choice of tacks seemed a pick-your-poison at best. The only danger I saw was that as the wind came into the southwest, we’d be pulled more abeam the northerly and westerly swells. That hadn’t happened yet, so I left Mo on port tack. No more knockdowns, so by 11pm I started sleeping.
At about 2am we were knocked over again. I could hear the wave come on us. The sound is like being overtaken by an angry jet engine. Then your 20,000 pound boat is thrown as if it has all the heft of a dog toy. I could see from the pilot house that the starboard rail had been bent in from the impact of the boat’s fall onto the solar panel lashed to the rail. Lines were all ahoo, but there was no other damage. By this time there was light enough (ship’s clock is still set to GMT+3) to see. The wind had started to come more into the west, so I gybed Mo around.
This, I felt, gave her a less sharp angle of approach to the westerly swell and she seemed to ride better. I was clearly incorrect in this assessment for an hour later we were knocked hard over to port. I was sitting in the pilot house when the hit occurred. The sensation was of being slammed to the ground. The port side window over the navigation station shattered. It was well underwater at this point, and green water gushed in. In a moment the boat righted. I remember seeing the water flow in, over the navigation desk, onto the floorboards in a big, heavy stream, but the shattered window didn’t register until I looked up and could see the clear ocean and jagged glass.
What to do next wasn’t immediately clear. Three immediate priorities: 1) stop the hole; 2) get the water out; 3) find a way to make Mo safe in these seas. By this time winds were 35 to 45 knots; gusts higher but nothing quite 50. We’ve seen worse, I thought, but the seas were tremendous. And the crashing white of the wave throwing itself bodily forward resembled surf-break, wide and long and all-consuming. I wasn’t sure which of the three was number one, so I pumped water from a full bilge while I thought how to plug the hole in the broken window.
With the bilge half empty, I retrieved two hatch-boards from the forepeak and bolted them together, one on each side of the window. The boards were not quite the right shape and left small voids on two corners, which I filled with silicone. That done I finished pumping the bilge, which only took 10 minutes until is sucked air. The next step seemed the only one left. Deploy the Jordan Series drogue. This seemed to take hours as it had gotten wedged deep inside the port locker, though flaked for easy deployment, had to be hauled out hand over hand into the cockpit and reorganized.
It was nearly 10am when it began streaming aft. The boat stopped. I pulled the storm jib and felt a gush of relief. Finally, we felt under control. Below was a wreck. I began mopping up and doing a mental assessment of the damage. Chart Plotter OK. VHF OK. Iridium GO, dead. Glass everywhere. Water everywhere. Grab towels.
Winds seemed to have moderated, but the swell was still fast and mean. Even on drogue we were hit hard from the stern, white water regularly in the cockpit and slamming the companionway hatch. I had been at clean up for two hours when I looked up to see we were lying ahull. I went into the cockpit and gave a yank on the drogue bridle. It didn’t yank back. I pulled it in and found the drogue had parted at the splice where it joins the bridle. The metal eye was all that remained. I have lavished untold care on the bridle, which has needed repair, but my assessment of the drogue was that it looked nearly perfect. There was rust around the eye at the lead-end splice, but the splice always looked sound. Lying ahull in this sea was out of the question, so I put Mo before the wind under bare poles.
In our first big blow, this had not worked, but this time I went dead downwind and Monte was easily able to maintain steerage. We rode-out the rest of the gale this way without incident.
Damage assessment: port aft rail bent in over winches; solar panel shattered; port window in pilot house shattered; dead electronics include Fleetbroadband 250 (weather, email, photo, video); Iridium GO (tracker and email/weather backup system); single sideband radio; Emtrak (AIS transmission); Radar; AA battery charger (for headlamps); Metoman barograph (barometer); Winspeed instruments; GPS compass (works erratically).
Working: chartplotter, vhf radio with AIS receive (as long as satellite compass with AIS receive works. Also the Garmin Inreach, being used for this report and now only communications tool left. Monte is fine. Otto is fine. The boat is sound; no damage to sails or rig. I also escaped mostly unscathed. Bangs and scratches, as one would expect. Bruised right calf and welt on the back of right thigh—unknown origin. Left hand and wrist swollen from when momentarily caught in drogue, which jammed a winch as it deployed, but all parts move without pain, so I am calling it a sprain.
The stove works fine too, so I can make hot coffee, which is more of a relief than you can know. What’s Next: Am making slow way in general direction of Australia. Was my general course anyway. Port of call unknown.
At 3700 miles onward, we have time to think about that later. Of electronics, the Fleetbroad band gives me lights and both wind instruments and satellite compass have worked sporadically, which suggests connection issues at the NMEA 2000 junction box. This gives me hope for the Radar as well, which routes through the same box. The others, Iridium GO, SSB, Barograph, AA battery charger, Emtrak AIS transmit are waterlogged and beyond hope.
What could I have done differently? 1) Deploy drogue when I saw that the seas were outstripping the wind. There’s an adage: “it’s not the wind we worry about; it’s the waves.” I read the wind and thought we’d seen worse, so pressed on. Given what happened with the drogue, we can see what good the drogue would have done. 2) I could have gybed earlier so as to take the main swell at a less sharp angle. But in pitch dark, choosing my angle would have been a crap shoot. With three trains, it feels there were few good options. And too, Monte had very tough time steering a course at the height of things because the rudder would practically stall out on the back side and trough of waves. Our course was as wide as 45 degrees at times. Otto would have done no better. So, answer: I don’t know. I still can’t get over how crushingly large and heavy were the seas for a blow whose average winds were 35 to 40 knots. In hindsight, their character felt like what one gets when wind is pushing against current—a line to look into later.
For the moment I’m putting Mo in slow mode, heavily reefed, so I can sleep (am bone tired even after two good nights of sleep) and put below decks back together. When I stop to think about it, I’m terribly disappointed and feel like I’ve let Mo down. I’ve gone from the man who was going to sail all five oceans in a year to the man who broke his boat in all five oceans in a year, etc. Luckily there’s not much time for such thoughts. And that’s my report. More as we continue eastward…