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Trim50 18-04-2007 10:34

Gripping account of S/V Aquarelle
Posted with permission from Diane & Ken Kay

Diane & Ken Kay on S/V Aquarelle started their circumnavigation from Long Beach Shoreline Marina via the Baja Ha Ha in 2005. This is a recent update and account of their experience trying to make the crossing to Australia from New Zealand last week.

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Aquarelle is a MT-42 cutter rig. Built in 1985 in Taiwan and designed by Ted Brewer. We installed a brand new rig (mast, leisure furl and two new furlers) before we left LA in 2005. Apparently, it was money well spent as the rig is fine and still tight. We may have one spreader pushed up slightly but that is all. The two by fours we had running between the stanchions holding fuel cans were however crushed and only splinters remain.

We lost all our fenders, which were just tied to the radar arch, our dinghy fuel tank, also tied on but that is all the deck damage.

Inside the boat is another story which we are still reading.


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We are back in Nelson after departing for Australia and running into considerable trouble. Here's what happened.

Ken, Graeme our crew, and I finished with NZ Customs at about 9:00 am on Thursday, April 12 and headed out toward Farewell Spit headed to Sydney, Australia in calm conditions. The predicted forecast was for a 15 kt winds building throughout the day until Friday afternoon when 30kts and 3 meter swells were expected to peak and then ease late that night with westerlies to15 kts on Saturday.

We passed Farewell Spit about 6:00 p.m. Thursday evening and joking commented that perhaps we should pull into Torrent Bay for a good nights rest and start out again in the morning. Naturally, all aboard rejected that idea.

The 30kt winds arrived early evening on my 7:00 p.m. to11:00 p.m.
watch. A decision was made to triple reef our mainsail and furl the staysail. Our main was little more than a hankerchief at this time.
The seas continued to build and by midnight we were rocking and rolling in 4 meter swell with gusting wind to 40 kts. Ken took over from me at 11:00 pm and throughout his watch seas continued to build and the wind increased to 55 kts. At about 1:00 a.m. Ken became violently ill and was vomiting every few minutes until he was in a state of frequent dry heaves.

Graeme took the watch at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning. The wind was 58 kts plus and the swells were upwards of 10 meters. At about 4:00 a.m.
Aquarelle took her first knockdown. The sound was unbelievable. The howling wind was so loud that we could barely hear each other inside the boat and in the cockpit it was horrendous. The wave that broadsided, us knocking us over, made a sound as though a bomb had gone off. We couldn't imagine that we had a rig left but she was still standing.

By now, Ken was lying helpless in the dinette stuffed in with pillows.
When he lay on his side he was able to stop the retching. It was impossible to stand and crawling was extremely difficult. I had taken a few pills during my early evening watch but at the first knockdown I too became violently seasick. The knockdown flooded the boat with seawater. Our closed companion way allowed water to flood into the boat, as did the pilothouse hatches and Vetus vents and unbeknownst to us at the time a port in the v-berth had burst open.

Aquarelle was on a port tack at that moment and gallons of water flooded the instrument panel, electrical panel and everywhere else.
Cupboards opened up and emptied their contents. The entire sole of the boat was covered with slopping food, a dozen eggs that had broken, biscuits, books, and charts and of course vomit all sloshing around in several inches of seawater. By now there was not one dry thing on the boat. Every cushion, mattress, book, piece of clothing, blanket or towel was drenching wet.

At 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning I took the watch. I can only describe my feeling upon clipping into my harness, in the cockpit, as sheer--pee my pants-terror. The sea was just a series of white, frothy mountains of breaking water. Wave after wave pounded us. The shudder of Aquarelle was unnerving. I began to shake and approach hysteria. I yelled down to Ken and Graeme that I wanted to turn around and go back. By now we were approximately 100 miles off New Plymouth, New Zealand. The second knockdown occurred only moments later. Again the boat filled with water and Ken managed to crawl from his berth to the radio in an attempt to call Maritime Radio and request a weather update. It was then that we realize we had lost all electronics. The computer was gone, sloshing around on the sole in salt-water slop. The SSB had fried as well as the radar and all other electronics in our navigation station. Our old VHF radio had managed to survive but the signal was very weak from Maritime Radio.

A joint decision was made to turn back to Nelson. Ken, Graeme and I all gathered in the cockpit in foulies, which we were sleeping in by now. Aquarelle had been under power for many hours when Ken noticed that we had lost a running back line over board. Graeme clipped onto the jackline and volunteered to leave the cockpit to retrieve the line before it wrapped the prop, which would make us completely helpless in the massive seas. He successfully retrieved the line and returned to the cockpit. As he leaned over our cockpit combing and unclipped his tether we were knocked down for the third time and Graeme was washed overboard. At the time, I didn't realize that Graeme was unclipped.
The roll had knocked all of us off our feet and the rushing water flowing through the cockpit picked him up and threw him head-over-heels off the port side of the boat. Ken scrambled to grab on to Graeme as be hung onto the lifeline as the boat rolled once more. Ken was somehow able to pull Graeme back on board as Aquarelle rolled back. Incredible! By now we were all scared out of our wits.

The sea state was Beaufort Scale 12 with winds gusting well over 60 kts and 11 to 12 meter swells. The following hours were pure hell.
With no navigation, paper charts lost to the sloshing slop, and raging seas we dug into small sopping wet holes to wait out another terrifying night. Ken and Graeme took turns on watch by lying on the floor of the pilothouse in full foul-weather gear sliding back and forth as Aquarelle withstood the punishing waves hour after hour.
Crawling up the companionway to look out every 20 minutes and make
sure we still had a rig. By this time, I was in a state of shock and
shaking with fear and vomiting frequently.

Dawn Saturday brought, slightly calmer with a steady 48 kt wind. The seasickness that Ken and I had been experiencing stopped and we were able to drink a bit of water. We were all still badly shaken from the ordeal and Graeme going overboard but we were beginning to think we might actually make it back.

More attempts were made to radio New Zealand Maritime Radio for waypoints, which we were able to put into our handheld GPS (the one remaining working piece of equipment). And at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 14 we approached the Nelson breakwater. When asked for a heading into the entrance of the harbor, Nelson Harbor declined to provide us such data. We were told it was illegal to provide such information. We just bumped along the break wall until we found the right spot and I was able to recall the layout of the harbor and get us safely to the dock.

Naturally, New Zealand Customs Service was there to greet us and we went through the entire check in procedure again.

At this time we are cleaning up the boat and taking stock of the damage. Our rig is still standing and we are all here to tell our story so we feel fortunate. Our immediate plan is to fly to Sydney and visit friends. From Sydney we will fly to the US and figure out where we want to go from here. Aquarelle will remain in Nelson for the next few months.

Safe and sound,

GordMay 18-04-2007 11:00

Gripping indeed ...

maxingout 18-04-2007 11:07

Crossing the Tasman Sea is like playing Russian Roulette, except almost all the chambers are loaded and only one or two chambers are empty. I have never met a cruiser who made it across the Tasman without at least one storm. I'm sure some people make uneventful crossings, but I just don't know any of them.

These folks are lucky that they had such a strong vessel, they were still close to New Zealand, and the storm didn't get worse. Very scary stuff.

I never had the courage to sail across the Tasman to Australia. I took the long route up to New Caledonia and then turned left toward Australia. Even the long route has it risks - the Queens Birthday Storm is a good example.

Glad to hear that the yacht and crew survived relatively intact.

Paul L 18-04-2007 11:30

Pretty brutal tale. Very, very lucky on the MOB recovery. Was the watch actually driving the boat, or was it on an auto-pilot?

Paul L

btrayfors 18-04-2007 11:47

Horrible. Glad they're safe.

No mention of storm tactics employed, though, if any. Storm sails? Drogue? Warps?

What sail was carried during the knockdowns? Was the boat hove to? Running off? Sailing w/storm sails? Bare poles?

Assume the repeated mention of "swells" means "breaking seas"???

Glad I wasn't there.


Raven 18-04-2007 12:04


Originally Posted by maxingout
Crossing the Tasman Sea is like playing Russian Roulette, except almost all the chambers are loaded and only one or two chambers are empty. I have never met a cruiser who made it across the Tasman without at least one storm. I'm sure some people make uneventful crossings, but I just don't know any of them.


On that note, perhaps some of our Aussie friends have heard the story of a man in a very small boat who attempted the crossing earlier this year.

On January 11th, a solo sea kayaker, Andrew McAuley, attempted to become the first to paddle across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. He was at sea for nearly 30 days, paddling by day and reclining into the cockpit of his traditional sea kayak at night, protected by a special hood that he'd fix to the cockpit opening above his head (the smiley face you see in the photo above).

The following has been excerpted from his web site at || Tasman Solo || The Trans-Tasman Kayak Expedition ||

"At 7.15pm NZ time on Friday 9th February, the New Zealand coastguard received an almost indecipherable transmission on channel 16 from a vessel identifying itself as 'Kayak 1' in the Fiordland. Andrew was within sight of land.
When no further communication was received, ships in the area were diverted to investigate. A full scale aerial search ensued, and Andrew's kayak was located, capsized, late the following evening approximately 30 nautical miles off the coast of New Zealand. Andrew was not found, yet his spirit will live on forever. In my mind, he achieved his goal."

Islandmike 18-04-2007 12:16

I was reading this while on one of my many conference calls during the day. I was asked to respond to some meaningless during the call, I failed to respond because I was so lost in the story. Needless to say I was asked what I was doing and why I did not respond.... my reply, "had to run to the bathroom Mr. Bigshot".

dana-tenacity 18-04-2007 14:55

I have crossed Ak - SY 13 times now, twice without hitting seriously bad weather so it does happen.
What they got was by no means unusual. It would be easy to criticise or make suggestions as to what they could have done differently ( though as pointed out we have very little info as to their storm tactics), but perhaps the time isn't quite right now.

Trim50 18-04-2007 18:02

From what I can gather, the storm tactics were isolated to furling the Geni and reefing the new furling main down to a nice pocket sized triangle.

southernman 18-04-2007 22:58

I'm working on getting more info on this story. My Nelson contacts are in action.... I'd have to say strange timing - that weather was well known to be out there.

Boracay 20-04-2007 02:29

Surface Pressure Chart...
1 Attachment(s)
The surface pressure chart from that day is interesting.

camaraderie 20-04-2007 11:02

Chris... OMG...that is some tight grid. I note that the time reads 10PM EST...not knowing how that works down does that compare to their 9AM reported departure. Is that grid 13 hours later or a different time zone? It is hard to imagine that a 980mb low could form within 1/2 a day and not be called out in the AM forecast. Strange.

chris_gee 20-04-2007 13:39

That grid is dated the equivalent of midnight Thursday NZ time. As it is the same as the published NZ map forecast for midnight Thursday, which must have been released late Wednesday, the forecast was accurate.
There is no way that map is consistent with 15-30 kt winds.
As they cleared customs at 8 am Thursday the appointment for that would have been made Wed and the decision to sail then based on a forecast probably at 10 am Wed.
I find it difficult to imagine any forecaster using that chart would not issue a storm warning. These at the latest would be late Wed and repeated by Coastguard and Marine radio during the day.
It looks like they relied on an out of date forecast.
Any change was probably due to a tropical low on the east coast deepening and moving south rather than E, and combining with an intense depression south of the country.
The southern lows are predictable. The problem is the tropical ones as their course is less predictable and they can intensify dramatically and quickly. They tend to lie behind unexpected weather bombs.
However in this case it appears conditions were known prior to their departure if not clear the previous day.
Having the radio on ( as required to maintain a listening watch) and making a trip report to Coastguard or Marine Radio would have alerted them to a change.

GMac 20-04-2007 22:30

The weather was going to turn very very bad, it was quite obvious and I'm surprised they did not see that. Glad they got back safe though.

NZ to OZ or the other way 15 odd times. Very very nasty only 3, yuck about 5 and the rest were good (35kts or less) except for the last 2 which were motor all the way due to total lack of weather. Always a big bloody swell though, wind or not. Bass Straight 9 times and motored 8.5 of them due to no weather. The other 0.5 was nasty though and I've never seen seas come up that big that fast. I'm talking flat water to chucking a 60ft steel monster around in less than 45 mins, very spooky.

camaraderie 21-04-2007 08:52

Chris...thanks for the response BUT if the report is as you say the equivilent of midnight Thursday and they left at 9am Thursday...isn't that 15 hours later for the report? Are you saying that there was an earlier FORECAST map that had the same info?

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