Going Places

Northern States

Southern States

The Bahamas

Setting sail, and the forecast calls for . . .

Lindsay McRory
September 26, 1995

Well, I can be quoted as saying the odds of us getting into a serious storm are infinitesimally small. Proper prevention is the key: watching weather carefully, planning for emergency stops, and being well-prepared.

As infinitesimally small as the odds were, the north Atlantic gave us a hell of a spanking our first night out. The storm, which escaped the notice of most forecasters, sunk three fishing boats, one being only 15 miles north of our position.

The morning forecast called for moderate winds and clear skies and nothing but a bit of rain in long-range forecasts. Hurricane Marilyn was a long way south of us and would not present a problem until we were in the Cape Cod area.

By mid-afternoon the forecast had changed to gale-force winds and hard rain. No problem. We planned our bail-out stops and secured as much gear as possible. Starting at 6 p.m., the winds just kept building and building. By 9 p.m., the forecast was for a full storm with sustained winds of 70 mph gusting up to 90 mph, with driving rain.

By 9 p.m., we were 30 miles from shore with the storm right on our nose. The wind was blowing from the southeast which made the entrances to our bail-out harbors too dangerous. With this option closed, we had no choice but to ride it out.

By 10 p.m., only the smallest piece of sail was up (reefed) in an attempt to keep the boat from broaching violently in the waves. Even though the boat was facing northeast and traveling at 7 to 10 mph, the swell forced our course over the ground to due south. This was good, as long we didn't get broached ( rolled upside down by a wave) we were in good shape.

The safety locker had been broken open--harnesses and strobes for everyone on deck. We plotted our position off GPS and radar every 30 minutes. The wind and waves continued to build and build. The rain was horizontal and completely blinding. Hakuna Matata would launch off a wave and seem suspended in mid-air. An eerie silence surrounded the boat before being smashed into the trough of the next wave. The boat would then accelerate wildly through the wave before another launch.

This cycle repeated itself for the next 6 hours.

At 2:30 a.m., I fixed our position on the chart. We were still in good shape, although the Nova Scotia coast had moved in on us; there was now only 10 miles separating use from a rocky, hostile shore. The 3 a.m. fix was disastrous; in 30 minutes we had drifted almost three miles due west. The wind was now due east and trying to force us onto the rocks.

The engine was turned on so we could motor sail in an attempt to claw our way off the coast. By 4 a.m. we had lost a few more miles and were now only 2 miles from being blended into the shoreline. In a flash the boat filled with smoke! The engine room was on fire! The engine stopped, two crew were dedicated to trying to sail us off the shore, another three went to work on the engine. The source of the smoke tuned out to be a wire harness that was used to put the batteries into their boxes. The harness had become dislodged and fell across exposed terminals. In 20 minutes we had the offending wire cut out and the engine was going again.

We had managed to worked our way south enough to get into a very small harbor. Port Mouton, Nova Scotia, is a difficult little harbor to get into in the daytime, let alone at night in storm conditions. It's a shallow little harbor littered with shoals and reefs that have no obvious pattern. Not one of our bail-out places.

With some great crew work, a large searchlight, and a lot of luck we found ourselves tied up to a coast guard dock at 6 in the morning. Even at dock the boat took a walloping; we had fenders and lines everywhere.

The final damage toll was relatively minor: broken battens in the main sail, a ripped main and mizzen sail and some of the new radio gear had packed it in. It looked like someone threw a grenade into the interior.

By noon the storm had pasted, we casted off a little tired and rattled but no less intent on getting to Norfolk.

Copyright © 1996 Starwave Corporation.