Incident at Sea-USCG to the rescue!!
24 October 2006 | Passage: Hawaii to California
This is an incident report concerning what happened to Sisiutl during the passage from Hawaii to California. No incident like this is one catastrophic happening, Rather, it is an accumulation of small problems that reach critical mass and explode. During a gale the genoa furling line parted and all of a sudden all of the 150% sail was out in a very strong wind. I had no way to get the sail rolled up or taken down. The same thing happened to me on the trip from Bora Bora to Hawaii. Then I was in the vicinity of a developing tropical depression and was able to bring down the sail in between squall lines. I injured a few ribs in the process and they are still mending so physically I am now not in the same shape I was then. Incidently, I replaced the control line during my stop over in Hawaii. Unfortunately they did not have the exact line I wanted (We are talking about Hawaii here....) and I got the strongest line they had. It did not, however, have the abrasion resistance I needed. In addition this was not a squall line but a relentless pounding with no breaks. To save everything I turned downwind and ran with it until the gale passed. During the run I heard a seam in the main sail give out but could do nothing to save it. At the time I was running a triple reefed main and the now fully extended genoa. The main eventually gave out and the exposed part of the sail was shredded. During the run I was taking large waves from the aft quarter. One of them hit under the boat and forced the exhaust pipe from its fitting. This fitting is in the aft lazarette. This allowed subsequent waves to enter thru the hole and the water to enter the boat. I heard the bilge pump go on but was not concerned since I was taking a lot of breaking waves and rain and Sisiutl takes on small amounts of water in cases like that. The following morning I had been at the wheel for about 24 hours and finally went below. There was water sloshing up thru the floorboard covers and I was certainly concerned!!! Checked the bilge pump and it was running but I could see from the plunger that it was not pumping any water. You can tell by the speed of the plunger if it is working or not. I closed all the sea cocks except for the ones that I needed for the hand pump and bilge pump. I was pretty sure I was not holed form hitting anything. I decided to hand pump instead of taking the bilge pump apart. I was able to hold my own against the incoming water but not make any progress. Since I was single handing I knew I had no ability to pump, steer, sleep, etc for the 1000 miles still to go to California. I was busier than a one armed paper hanger with a serious itch! I never thought I would call in a mayday but I was running out of ideas and dry places to stand so I called on 14300 to the Maritime Mobile Net. Their controllers and some from the Pacific Seafarers Net contacted the USCG and they responded immediately with an air drop of two emergency pumps. Within hours a C130 piloted by Lt Shivery and Lt Merklin and their fine crew were over head. They let me know what they planned to do and executed their plan with professionalism and some remarkable marksmanship. Both drops of pumps were right on target with the parachute on one side of Sisiutl and the pump on the other. I just had to pull the canister in with the line that was draped over the boat and haul it aboard using a spinnaker halyard and winch. During this exercise I used the engine to get to the canister and took on additional water. This is because the exhaust was not all going out of the boat due to the loose connection. Some of it was pumping into the lazarette and running into the boat. I noticed that the water inside the boat seemed warmer than it should be and checked all over the engine to see it there was any problem in the engine room. After I got the emergency pump installed and working I was able to get all of the water out of Sisiutl and breathed a bit easier. I had turned the engine off at this point and when I searched for the leak nothing showed up. No more water was coming aboard because the waves were from a different direction. Clearly there was a problem but the source was a mystery. I took the aft stateroom apart so I could get to the exhaust pipe and found dribbles of water from where the pipe went thru a bulkhead. Maybe the fiberglass had worn a hole. Started the engine and the aft stateroom filled up with exhaust and a lot of water started flowing. Shut it down and emptied the lazarette to discover the problem. The fix was easy. Took the bilge pump apart and found a piece of an impeller from a different bilge pump lodged in a valve that prevented this bilge pump from working. I replaced the old pump because it constantly broke impellers. Apparently one piece migrated into the hose and here several months later worked its way back out of the hose and into the new bilge pump...all at EXACTLY the wrong moment!! No single event...just one on top of another until the total was too great. Also found that the self steering unit was knocked out of alignment and cannot be used until I fix it. It is an easy fix but not doable from out here. Sisiutl balances up pretty well and on a beat self steers all by herself. I am not concerned about that problem. I have moved the mizzen sail to the main mast as a replacement for the torn main sail. Of course the two masts use different mounts and I had to take the sail slides off the main sail and tie them onto the mizzen sail in place of the slugs it uses.
Still working on lessons learned. Some were unpredictable, such as the impeller hiding in a hose waiting for the wrong time to come loose. A contributing factor was certainly fatigue and not fully recovered from earlier injury. My physical condition did not allow me to respond as well as I maybe could have. One is not to buy line from a salesman who as a recommendation says, 'Dat some primo rope Bro, yeah?" Gotta love Hawaii!!!! My forever thanks to the net controllers who helped get the whole rescue process started and maintained contact with me throughout the event. Thanks also to the USCG Rescue Center at Pt Reyes and the EXCELLENT air support. You guys don't get paid enough!!!
All is well on board. I am making up for the ground I lost running from the storm. Food, fuel, water are adequate for the 10-12 days until landfall. I am more rested now and ready for the remainder of the passage.