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 on the Garmin InReach, the only communications tool currently working aboard Moli. Team F8 then had to copy and paste each section to build this and upcoming posts. Hence the slightly stilted language.  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 GO. Sadly no photos until then but I’ve asked him to make sure he keeps taking pictures.

Enjoy the dramatic read! Jo

Blog Report.

Date: February 19

Day 100.

Position: 46 05S 61 15E.

Course/Speed: ENE6 Wind: NW: 20.

Bar: 1022.

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 40,000 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 action to take first wasn’t obvious. 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 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, the only option left, was to deploy the Jordan Series drogue. This seemed to take hours. Though flaked for easy deployment, the rough weather meant it had wedged itself deep inside the locker and 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…

26 Comments on “Disaster

  1. Hi Randall.

    I’ve been reading all your reports and , as a class A internet lurker (aka non creepy non poster), I haven’t felt the urge to write anything until now. I am so impressed with your ability to take it all in stride, on the one hand, but also provide such honest and gripping accounts of it all. I doubt Mo feels let down : I bet she’s loving this (hell of a) trip! Fairer winds for you both for as long a while as you need, then back to it I guess. Rooting for you, from the BC la niña deep freeze of ’18.

  2. Oh Randall don’t feel like a failure! You just have more stories to tell and more distance to sail now (which will give us all more stories) and mo is not let down- she’d be let down if you left her tied to the dock and never went anywhere like 99 percent of the boats around!

  3. Yes the honest fear and thoughts and dealing with blue stormy water in darkness… and staying rational!!! ! Fair winds and following seas that are pushing you forward not over and under!

  4. Bravo for the ability to endure and take all with such calm. Easy to see that you know what you are doing…a proof of good preparation. Maybe what is coming out of this is the enormity of this challenge. Up there with the best. Many thanks for the quality communications from you and your crew.

  5. Hey, Randall, you are OK, your boat is OK – so everything is OK! Keep going!

  6. Fantastic experience! To have your skill and determination to tackle the five oceans, that is not failure. You are taking everything life is throwing at you, and surviving! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Thank you Randall for sharing your courageous voyage. Your spirit and ingenuity is an inspiration. Press on – if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

  8. Glad to hear that you’re ok despite all that has happened!

    I can’t help thinking of how all this could have been prevented from happening in the first place… Considering you already suffered from water damaging your autopilot in Cape Horn, wouldn’t it be a good idea to install all critical electronic devices in some kind of water-tight compartments / cases, so that they would not be affected even if they were submerged?

    It seems that large doghouse windows like you have on Moli are always a week point and should be carefully designed. Windows like that should be constructed of bullet proof “ship-grade” glass and/or some kind of easily deployable shutters for extreme conditions or break-downs.

    It would be nost interesting to hear your thoughts on these issues at some point.

    Best of luck for you!

  9. Randall, glad to hear that you are ok . I am sure with some rest and reassessment you will refine your plan and successfully continue on to Australia. Your ship has proven great strength plus plenty of back-up systems . Take great care of yourself

  10. Hang in there mate – glad you are safe. As you may remember, I ran off under bare poles in similar winds (but much smaller seas) coming back to Canada from Hawaii and lost the autopilot due to waves coming on board. I wish in retrospect I had been brave enough to turn her back into the seas and heave to under a heavily reefed main as I believe she would have suffered less damage. But turning back in those conditions and raising sail is a daunting prospect particularly when you are alone. Plus you lose a day or 2 of progress… Best of luck recovering from this setback!

  11. Good job Randall! I suspect your experience will lead to some interesting design changes. I’m new at sailing & so far have learned things by the “Oh sh@t-won’t do that again!” method. Glad to hear this is all part of the fun. 😁 Safe Sailing & Thx to Jo for bringing us the update.

  12. Wow Randall, clever solution sealing the broken pilothouse window with 2 boards bolted together and polysulfide! Can’t imagine how terrifying that would be to get knocked down again and again, the sea state sounds terrible. Even in 25 knots I’ve been thrown around pretty good when multiple swell directions are running so the thought of getting stuck in that in those heavier conditions is frightening. Fair winds and seas to Australia!

  13. Do you need any help once Randall gets to Australia? I have friends in Perth if that would help.

  14. Hang in there, Randall. We are all pulling for you and Mo. And it looks like you are pulling for yourself pretty well. Stay safe.

  15. Thanks for your lessons Randall. I read and will take your experiences with me to my own expedition la Longue Route 2018 . I will order a second Iridium Go so I have a backup. Hang in there could have been worse.

  16. Don’t lose heart! At OCSC you presented paintings of immense Southern Ocean seas dwarfing sailboats and you and Mo have overcome that challenge with great courage and level headedness! The journey is the dream!

  17. Glad you are safe, that was an insane read I can’t inagine what it was like being in it

  18. Randall, You should be proud of how far you’ve come, and all that you and Mo have accomplished. As you write, you and the boat are still sound and sailing. I hope your spirits are buoyed by your fans and admirers. And thank you Jo for all your work in bringing us this update and so much more you’re doing for the voyage.

  19. Stud sailorman. Tough as nails boat.
    Used every trick in the bag during the storm except heave-to? Maybe try it earlier when waves start to breaking next time?? Be easy on your self.
    You’ve lived to tell a great tale tho. You’re a true mariner of ole school!

  20. You are fine, you handled it well, your boat is sailing, you deserve the rest. Would you not consider heaving to to let the weather pass over you? It’s amazing how calm and quiet the world becomes when hove to.

  21. Pingback: Knockdown in the Indian Ocean–The Story in Video and Photos – The Figure 8 Voyage

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