KNOCKDOWN IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC

Be careful what you wish for. It is a tired old and overused cliché, but in our case, it was appropriate. December 19, it was the middle of the night and I was on watch trying to sail; but there was no wind. The GPS showed us going nowhere with 0 knots over the ground. I sat behind the wheel doing nothing and wishing for wind. At the end of my watch, I went to bed leaving Doug S. at the helm wishing for wind.

The next morning, on December 20, the breeze had filled in and for the remainder of the day pleasant sailing under 20 knots of wind; our wish came true. This continued into the next day. Conditions started to change during my shift when the winds, coming from the east, started to build to over 25 knots. The crew tucked in a double reef and furled in the jib. As the evening passed the winds continued to grow, peaking at 35 knots; Doug S was on watch. Before I retired to the aft port bunk to try to sleep, I asked Doug how everything was. He response was, “We need a forth reef”. Near the end of his shift, the boat was running 12 knots with the wind. We were now heading north; we wanted south so John decided to drop all the sails and go bare poles.

Early the next morning, December 22, I crawled out of my windowless cave to see that we were in a gale – wind speeds were hitting 55 knots. The door to the cockpit had been closed and dogged down. Looking through the door window, I saw John, Stuart, and Doug G sitting in the cockpit. I put on my foul weather gear, opened the door and struggled out. The wind so loud that it felt like a hundred freight trains screaming inches by. Looking out I saw the chaos the wind inflicted on the ocean; we were surrounded by mountains. One moment we were in a deep valley looking up at the mountaintops with sheer cliffs that looked like sheets of ice; the next the boat was sitting on top of a wave like the Ark upon the mountain. Bright sunshine shone through the wave tops just before they would break in a white froth making them look like majestic cathedrals perched high in the air, the colour of aquamarine, like thick pieces of broken glass.

New York to South Africa (33 of 46)

New York to South Africa (32 of 46)

29 degrees and 53 minutes south by 16 degrees and 37 minutes west at about 8:00 am GMT, the boat like some great beast that had been shot staggered and lost its footing under a collapsing wave; then fell to port and slide down a wave. Time stood still.

At that moment, after having tried to take some video and pictures of the raging sea, I was back in the port aft bunk trying to sleep in spite of the turmoil outside when I felt the boat fall over. I sat up and braced myself thinking, “We are going to roll”. Looking out the bunk opening, I saw water pouring in.

Doug S was standing between the galley and the pilothouse by the navigation station, looking aft. Bracing himself as the boat started to slide he looked out the port windows and saw nothing but blue water. When the water started pouring in Doug S quickly shouted, “The windows are ok, it’s coming through the vents” easing everybody fears.

Captain John was in the aft starboard cabin said he felt a slight disappointment towards the boat for being knocked down. Later all agreed it that the boat had preformed admirably in the conditions. John’s brother, Doug G, was a sleep on the starboard settee and was initially unaware of the situation.

Stuart had the worst view of it all. He was outside at the helm trying to maneuver the boat over the gigantic waves. Nevertheless, the one wave, collapsing underneath, caught the boat pushing it on its side. Stuart, who was thankfully tethered on, was thrown to the port rail. He found himself underwater, from hearing the screaming wind to tranquil silence. Staring at the surface, seeing lines, floating debris, and the blue sky above, he told himself, “Hold on, hold on, hold on”.

Time had stretched as the knockdown happed, but then with a shudder it snapped back as items in the cabin flew from starboard to port. Books, ipods, unsecured tools, and other fragments flew through the air like missiles and impacted with a crash. The laptop barely missed Doug G as he woke with the realization of what just happed. Everybody checked with each other to see if everybody was ok. John opened the door and screamed, “Are you ok Stui?” A wild eyed and slightly shocked Stuart responded that he was fine and continued at the helm.

We had survived a knockdown in the South Atlantic. The waves and winds continued for a bit but within a few hours, the waves decreased in size and the winds were below 20 knots. We had suffered no injuries and the boat suffered no damage; with sails back up, we continued onward to South Africa.

New York to South Africa (34 of 46)

136 Responses to “KNOCKDOWN IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC”

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