Sunday, April 7, 2013

Storm Recap

When I did the return leg of Bermuda 1-2 in 2009 with my buddy Zoe, we hit some brutal weather as a low parked itself southeast of New England, giving us a strong headwind for the last 2 days of the race. The boat and crew took a beating as we hammered into 30 and sometimes 40+ knots of breeze on the nose but the seas were never really that bad, maybe 8-10 feet or so. Don't get me wrong, it was still brutal sailing with Jeroboam launching off waves then shuttering so violently on landing that I was seriously concerned for the boat. Yesterday's storm was different in that it whipped up the waves something terrible. I hadn't been out in waves like those before. My masthead is about 50 feet off the water so I would guess the wave heights were about half that conservatively, perhaps as high as three quarters. I know, I know, everyone exaggerates wave heights when they're on the water, and it's easy to do because they always look bigger than they really are, but I think my range is pretty close here.

As they were building Friday night, I stayed on my easterly course but at a certain point they became too large to make any real progress east so I began to crack off to the northeast. At first I sailed with a reefed main and my storm jib but as they wind increased Friday evening, I dropped the main altogether, lashing it securely to the boom and turned another couple points downwind with just the storm jib. But the wind quickly increased to steadily be in the 40s, and it was clear I was still flying too much sail. I began to get suited up for a very wet foredeck sail change. Just as I finished donning my boots, I felt a wave really kick out Jeroboam's stern so that we were no longer stern to the next enormous wave coming at us, rather beam to. This is bad but usually just results in a lot of heel as the next wave hits before the autopilot can get us back on course. As bad luck would have it, the next wave was a monster that was just starting to break as it hit us. The boat rolled onto it's side very quickly, so quickly that I just assumed we were going to keep on going from the sheer momentum but somehow we stopped and after a few more seconds, the boat righted itself, though much slower than we'd gone over and enough time to feel a bit panicked as I heard a lot of water rushing into the boat.

Most of it came down the companionway, which was boarded up with the slider closed but not latched and there are two other places I suspect allowed some in, one a vent and the other was the starboard stern locker. Luckily I was in the aft cabin getting suited up so as the boat knocked to port, I had only a foot or so to fall until I hit the cabin wall. Had I been in my bunk I'd of been thrown across the relatively much wider salon which would have been very painful. I quickly put on my jacket and looked up on deck to see if the rig was still there. Thankfully it was, even the storm jib was still attached. The autopilot had us back on course so I went below to assess the water situation and decided I'd get the electric bilge pump going while I cleaned up the deck a little.

Back in the cockpit, the first thing that struck me odd was that every single line (about 22 in total that control sails, trim, boom, etc) on both the port and starboard side had been tossed into the sea, including the ones that were uncoiled sitting on the cockpit sole. But the really odd part was that all of them lead over the top port lifeline first, then into the sea, not over the rail or down the cockpit drain or out the open transom. This would suggest the knockdown was more than just a 90 degree roll and that the mast and storm jib probably hit the water. I shined a flashlight into the rigging half expecting to see seaweed up there but didn't spot any nor could I spot any damage to the masthead instruments; the wind gauge was still working and the masthead tricolor was still illuminated. I gathered all the lines back into the cockpit then did the same for all the halyards which had been coiled up at the base of the mast. These too, all of them, first ran over the top lifeline, then into the sea. Thankfully, none were fouled on the rudder or prop so it was an easy chore getting them back on board.

It was time to get the storm jib down, which was the whole point of suiting up in the first place, so I eased the sheet, got the halyard ready and waited for relative lull in the wind for the drop. It was soon on deck, wrestled back into the cockpit and stowed in the sail locker.

I checked on the bilge and it was draining nicely at this point. The effective rate of the pump is 5 gallons per minute and after about 20 minutes, the bilge was empty which means in just a few seconds during that knockdown, Jeroboam took on around 100 gallons of water. Imagine if it had been a roll over?


  1. Jon: When under bare poles during the storm, were main and jib still on and furled, or totally removed? Tom

  2. Tom,
    Yes, main was lashed to the boom, jib was furled on the forestay and small staysail was lashed to the foredeck, so not technically bear poles. Thanks for mentioning that - I meant to indicate it in the original write up but must have forgot. In the old square rigger days, bear poles would have also meant dropping the cross trees and top mast to the deck which was often the practice when rounding Cape Horn.