This was a delivery
from Honolulu to Seattle
. The owner needed his boat moved ASAP, but it was late in the year. I attempted to talk him out of it, but in the end I took the job anyway. I knew it would be a rough trip in October, but I'd been in ugly storms before and figured I and the boat could handle it. Ha!
The first pic below is the surface analysis for the time when we were disabled. The red X marks the approximate spot where we activated our EPIRB. It may not look that bad on the map, but with a storm at our West and leftover hurricane
Ana slop coming from the South, the sea state was terrible. I just can't describe it. The nine meter waves were bad enough, but when they started mixing with the Ana mess, the wavetops were like huge explosions of white water
. The kinetic energy was simply jaw dropping.
The boat's motion was violent, like a car crash that wouldn't end. We were running off (in the right direction, thankfully) with a storm jib
when we were hit by an enormous mess of breaking waves. They happen quickly, and no, you can't just steer around them. I don't want to speculate how big they were, but they were far taller than what we'd experienced before then. In the space of two or three seconds we were knocked down, a fixed window to port was broken out from the inside by flying debris, and green water filled the cabin
to knee height. We'd lost
and replaced a hatch
board in a previous storm, but the sea laughed at our repair. We now had no way to secure the cabin
against the knockdowns that kept coming. It was like the sea was trying to stomp us to death, repeatedly, and it felt like it.
Imagine you're hit in an intersection by a city bus. That's how violent the disabling wave was. It knocked the starboard interior
off the hull. The cabin was a disaster. Every time we were knocked down after that the boat refilled with seawater. Our electric bilge pump
failed. It had sucked up some floating debris, and once it was clogged it didn't take long to burn itself out. You can't hear the change in in the pump's operation in those conditions, and we were hand pumping at the same time, so we never noticed it had failed. With almost a thousand miles to go, and the weather
just getting worse, I decided my crew's lives were more important than saving the boat.
The Hyundai Grace was within 150 NM of our location, and I didn't want to miss that bus and spend the next week fighting to keep the boat afloat in the depressions that march across the globe at that latitude at that time of year. If you look in the pic, our boat is clearly on its way down as we were being taken off, and it had only been an hour or so since we'd quit hand pumping.
The decision to deliver the boat in the North Pacific in October was a bad one, and that's on me. We're only alive because I had shipped my own safety equipment
before the trip, and because I pulled the plug
when I did. I thought I'd seen all kinds of bad weather
in my various offshore miles, but nothing, just nothing compares to the violence we experienced that day.
How to use a SOLAS flare:
What can happen if you misuse a SOLAS flare:
Starboard cabin, sans cabinetry. This is AFTER we'd stabilized the boat and cleaned up a bit:
I was on the bridge of the Hyundai Grace when the skipper
of this boat contacted us a few hundred miles off the Central American coast (my crew and I deboarded in Panama). He was in serious trouble and considering asking us to take him off his boat. I took the call because I was there and a native English
speaker. He chose to continue on in the bad weather, with less than optimal safety equipment
aboard. At his request we called his wife from the bridge and left a message that he was going to be late getting in to Acapulco. He never made it, and now he’s dead. The difference between me and him is a few thousand dollars worth of safety gear
and a single
bad decision. I stay in touch with his family
; I was the last person he spoke to before he died:
This is just interesting. It’s a fax the Filipino crew staffing agency sent to the Hyundai Grace when news of our rescue
got back to their office:
There are several lessons to learn from our loss, but the main ones are not to play around in the North Pacific after about September, and not to skimp on safety training
. No one should imagine I'm sanguine about our experience. I misjudged and almost died. It still wakes me up in a cold sweat some nights. This thread began with the question is it okay to substitute the W&P strobe for SOLAS flares. Unless you never leave protected waters, it is not.