On July 29th, 2004 Five sailors arrived at Orlando, FL airport
where they met the owner of a 1983 Tayana 42ft. Cutter
for a delivery they thought would be a nice sail from Melbourne, FL to Lancaster, VA, but a storm called Alex and a yacht named Archipelago II had other plans for this crew. The crew consisted of John McConnico – skipper
with extensive offshore
experience, George Currie and Ron Koris – limited offshore
experience, Bob Hedges and Marilyn Don Carlos – novices. The first hint of a problem came in the two-hour drive from the airport
to Melbourne, FL when the owner informed us that he had not seen his yacht in two years since he had sailed it from Venezuela
. When we arrived at Telemar Marina we soon spotted a tired looking gray-hulled boat at the end of the dock
we just knew was the one we would be sailing on. When we got closer to her we realized that she was covered in black mold
from the Florida
sun. I started to question why I was doing this. This boat looked like she was rode
hard and put away wet.
After the crew got over the initial shock, we started to evaluate the boat for an offshore passage up the Gulf Stream
. This is where our problems started. John and Bob looked at the boat sail’s, rigging
and safety equipment
. George and the owner went over the engine
supply while Marilyn and I checked out the galley
. The original plan was to leave on the 30th, but this was delayed until the 31st so we could get the yacht ready. We started the engine
, raised the sails
(deplorable, but the owner said there were serviceable spares), went up the mast
to check blocks and do a rigging inspection
. Check and fix lights, run the stove, test the auto-pilot, change engine oil
, clean the fuel
and top off all tanks
and fuel and learn how to switch from one tank to another. Locate and inventory all spares. Make a trip to West Marine
. John had intelligently brought his own tool kit. Then Marilyn and I had to plan for a nine-day trip and buy everything needed for that, because the yacht had been totally striped by the owner earlier when he put the yacht up for sale
. We had to purchase food
, pots and pans, plates, silverware, cooking
utensils, cups and glasses, coffee pot, paper towels and toilet paper. The yacht had a good freezer
. Checked the VHF
and single-sideband radios and ship’s GPS
, all working. Yacht was equipped with a life raft (last inspected four years ago), 401-EPRIB and a abandon ship bag. We also checked weather
forecasts and there was some concern about a high-level low-pressure system north of the Bahamas
but we felt that this system would proceed us north and we could ride its coattails north. It did but came back to haunt us when it stalled off of Florida coast and strengthen. We where all set to take off at 9:00am the morning of the 31st.
Breakfast at Denny’s and we were away! Motored up the Indian River, entering the canal leading to the locks at Port Canaveral and out into the Atlantic Ocean
. We cleared the locks at 16:00, the seas were flat and the wind
was 5 knots from the southeast. Just what we thought they would be. Unfurled the 135 Genoa
and started to run offshore to get to the Gulf Stream
. Speed over ground was 6.1 knots and the barometer was 30.00 in. Watches were set and a routine was established. Since lunch was late on the first day because of all the preparation of getting the yacht ready for offshore Marilyn prepared a quick supper of a very good salad. By 01:00am on Aug. 1st wind
had built to 15 knots with gust to 20. We had been running the engine at about 2200rpm for 17hrs at this time with no problems. Position was 28. 56 N by 079. 47 W. The Gulf Stream continued to get rougher as the day went on. By 05:00am we had cloudy skies and 20 to 25 knot
winds. The rain started about 07:00 and we discovered the numerous deck
. The dodger
was in such bad shape when we got to the yacht we sprayed it with Thompson’s Water Seal, this lasted about 2 hours before it started leaking. The crew lost Marilyn that night to mal-de-mar. At the beginning of August 1st we had been steering
a course of 060 degrees. We change course to 030 degrees at 10:00. By 11:00 winds had reached gale force, 40 knots and the barometer was at 30.00 in. By 12:00 noon the engine had started to overheat and we shut it down and started to work on it. With the conditions deteriorating we decided to hove-to by rolling up the genoa
until we had about 4 feet out and back-winded with the wheel
lashed to windward. We were drifting 4 to 5 knots heading into the center of a depression that we did not know was stalled and gaining strength off the Georgia
, Florida coast. The motion of the yacht was getting more violent as time went on and we would take large waves over the cabin
top. At this time Bob started to feel seasick but kept up his watches. The violent motion of the yacht discouraged any cooking
so we ate cold snacks. Because of this motion when you tried to do anything, get out of a bunk, go to the head
or get weather
gear">foul weather gear on, etc. you had to plan your actions out ahead so as to do it as safely as possible. At times the storm had other ideas and would send you flying across the yacht to meet an immovable force, like the other side! I was lying on my port berth and a strong wave hit the boat and launched a locker of apples across the cabin and made apple sauce on the other side. Some of the ongoing problems we encountered were lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition and decreased mental awareness.
At 04:00am on August 2nd we had our first major emergency
when the furling
line on the Genoa parted and the whole 135 Genoa unrolled in 50+ knots of wind. Bob was the only one on watch when this happened and immediately started to blow on a loud whistle we all had attached to our harnesses. As the rigging vibrated so bad and made such a racket that John later said that he thought we going to lose the mast
. I threw on a pair of shorts and my harness, but forgot my glasses while John and George got dressed. Bob was panicking and could not figure out what to do. Racing
, I helped Bob turn the yacht downwind to keep the sail from flogging itself to death. Archipelago II accelerated like a runaway locomotive. In the pitch
dark it was impossible to tell how high the waves were, but the yacht was surfing down the backs of them like a Hawaiian pipeline surfer. Because I did not have on my glasses and could only see the wind indicator gauge George helped me steer the boat as John went forward to bring the sail down. The sail went over-board and Bob went forward to help John get it onboard and lashed down. This simple act in these conditions took an hour and a half. We then hove-to under bare poles and John ordered all hands down below and into our bunks for rest as we were all fatigued to our bones.
The morning brought only more misery. Our wind speed meter only went to 50 knots and it was pegged at the max for the next 15 hours. Waves were now about 40 feet and though we had the yacht set-up to take them on our port quarter but we would sometimes be hit by a rogue wave
that would lay the yacht over to 45 degrees on one side and flood the cabin with green water then she would roll back over another 45 degrees. Still unknown to us Tropical Storm Alex had stalled off of the South Carolina coast and the Gulf Stream had moved us into it. By 11:00am on August 2nd we had been in gale force winds for 18 hours. The yacht is equipped with port and starboard diesel tanks
located under the settees and they started to leak onto the cabin sole
. This made things very unpleasant as the smell was not helping with seasickness and made the cabin sole
as slick as a skating rink. Another problem that surfaced at this time was the fact that we had stored the extra water jugs next to these tanks. When we went to drink from them we discovered that they had been tainted by a strong diesel
Next we had to deal with the motion of this yacht in this storm. The low side would suddenly become the high side and then go back to the low side in a matter of two or three seconds and you could really be injured, this motion was through an arc
of 90 degrees. I was launched across the cockpit
and back in a matter of seconds and received a knee buckling punch to the right kidney from the seat edge while on watch with John. George had found a leaking cooling
hose on the engine and John was able to cut off the bad end and re-joined it. From then on we limited the rpm’s of the engine to 2300 which gave us a speed of about 4 knots in claim conditions. We could not motor
against the seas we encountered but we could guide the yacht in the direction we wanted the bow to point. We decided to listen to Herb Hillenberg on SSB
at 15:30 to see if we could get any information on this storm we where caught in. After listening for about an hour for the yachts to check-in Herb started talking to one who was north of our location. He was giving the location of Tropical Storm Alex and saying that this storm would probably be a hurricane
within a couple of hours. John plotted the location of the center of the storm and informed us that we were in the northeast quadrant. We were being pushed northeast by the storm and the Gulf Stream and we now knew that we where in the most dangerous quadrant of this storm. The decision was made to turn and run under bare poles west across the storm heading for Charleston, SC. When we did this the apparent force of the wind increased tremendously. The person at the helm
would have to sit with their back to the wind because it felt like the rain was ice pellets being shot into their backs by a shotgun. The person at the helm
could only fight the motion of yacht and the wind driven rain for 30 minutes at a time. This lasted for about two hours until we sailed into the eye of Alex. We later discovered a well-defined eye was the sign that Alex had grown into a category 2 hurricane
Once inside the eye we where able to start the engine and turn on the autopilot
and rest. The eye was about 15 to 20 miles across at most. We were trying to head
west at this time but were being pushed north by the Gulf and the storm. George and Bob managed to turn the yacht toward the south and away from a really ugly brown wall that was to the north. They got within about one to two hundred yards of that wall before they where able to guide the yacht back into a more westerly direction. Marilyn was able to rejoin the watch schedule and she and I experienced another strange phenomenon. The auto-pilot started steering
the yacht thru a arc
of 180 degrees and the hand-held GPS’s (the yacht’s original one had given up the ghost during the storm) started reporting that Charleston was at a bearing of 90 degrees east which was 180 degrees opposite of our heading. When we decided to test this we turned the yacht to the new bearing and the GPS’s both reported that the new bearing was still 180 degrees opposite of our heading. At this time we decided to trust the compass
and steered 270 degrees west. In the eye of Alex conditions where stable and we had 5 goldfinches land in the cockpit
. They where trapped in the eye of this storm and were exhausted to the point of trusting humans. They perched on our legs and shoulders without fear. One even helped John steer the yacht by running back and forth on the wheel
. What saddened us was that we all knew that they would not survive being caught in the eye of this storm.
Once into the western quadrant the wind seem a little less but because it was opposing the Gulf Stream the waves where steeper and we had to hove-to again. We were finally pushed out of the southern end of Alex at aprox.15: 00 on August 3rd. Wind was down to 15 knots but the waves were still about 10 feet. I was able to boil a package of hot dogs
and the crew enjoyed their first hot food
since August 1st. We had a crew meeting and decided that since we were about 95 nautical miles southeast of Morehead City
, NC, we would try to repair the Genoa and continue on to Lancaster, VA. John and I went forward to work on the sail. We managed to get the piece of furling
line out that was jamming the drum and feed the sail into the track in spite of a tear at the head of the sail. We could not unroll it completely nor roll it up completely, but we made do. We decided to put two reefs
in the main sail and raise it in spite of the head of this sail being shredded by the winds while it was lashed to the boom. With all crew now back in action we were able to go back to a regular watch schedule. I was finally able to get about six hours of sleep and it helped me a great deal. When George and I came on watch that evening the wind was about 15 knots and George asked me if we should raise more sail. I thought for just a second on the sleep I just had and told George we should leave the sails
as they were and let the rest of the crew sleep. When we finally got into the Chesapeake Bay
we had wind blowing from the north at 25 knots. We had had enough; we set a course for Hampton, VA and put into the city pier. An hour later you could have found five sailors at the bar in the Radisson Hotel
letting off a lot of stress. We used the next day to do repairs
on the yacht and found in the course of trying to find the stoppage on the galley
sink that there was not a hose clamp on the thru-hull. During the storm we had launched this 29,000-lb. yacht off the back of a large wave and had slammed into the trough with a lot of force. We still do not know why this hose stayed on the thru-hull. On the next day we had a nice sail up the bay to Yankee Point Marina and John was telling us stories about some of his deliveries and that he had dodged some bullets along the way. I then told John he had dodged another one and he said that this one had winged him.
Story and photos by Ron Koris, , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
photos from the NASA web site.
The author lives aboard Rapport, a Cheoy Lee
Clipper 36 with his wife, Gwyn.
- Take more time checking out a boat that you are unfamiliar with. Do not go offshore without a prepared boat.
- Make sure to check the credentials of the crew. The two crewmembers that got seasick said that they had offshore experience. It was later learned that this consisted of being passengers on a sailboat, not active crew.
- Make sure that you keep checking the weather after you leave.
- Make sure that you have easy to fix hot food and a way to keep it hot for the watch crew. The inability to have hot food really hurt us.
- Last but not least. Do not go if you have doubts about the safety of the boat or trip. It’s your life.