Bookmark and Share
S/V Tiger Lilly
Rig heavy, reef early, and pray often; for God does not assure us an easy passage, but He does promise a safe anchorage...
The Trades de be a blowen Mon!!
13/01/2012, Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, West Indies

Our English cousins have a saying:
Damned if we don't have BOTH!!

| | More
13/01/2012 | Frederick Mesmer iii
Seems the Xing was a great shakedown cruise, how'd Lilly Handle the weather?
14/01/2012 | JC
Lilly you are as beautiful as ever. Happy to hear you two are doing well.
16/01/2012 | NanC
Looking relaxed and happy even with an umbrella and a Naval Officer! LOL
24/12/2011, Under way for Antigua

Twas the night before Christmas, and the TIGER LILLY is out, sailing His grand sea - that's what we're about.
Her keel's a deep one, she sails quite true, her mast is so sturdy, as she runs for the blue.
Our latitude is north at two eight point five, and our attitude is up, we are feeling alive.
The meridian is west at seven four and a bit, that star in the east makes this holy night fit.
Over two thousand fathoms, the sea here's quit deep, sans rocks and sans shoals, the navigator can sleep.
With mains'l and yankee set on the port tack, we're close hauled for the Antillies, and not looking back.
The wind's just a light breeze from the northeast and fluky, but sailing our boat is both pleasure and duty.
At ten twenty-two and on the up slope, the glass foretells light air and quells our wind hope.
The vane gear is steering right down our chart track, Helmer's like a third crew, and he doesn't talk back!
We're running down our easting to meridian 65, then south till the butter melts, she'll give us a ride.
The balmy West Indies that's where we are bound, where tropical waters and Trade Winds are found.
Lilly's Christmas bike socks are the only holiday trimming, but Christ's in our hearts, with his love we are brimming.
Michael W. Smith fills the boat with His carols, the birth of the Christ child he croons and he heralds.
The HAM radio is tuned to the back stay with care, sending these Christmas greetings to our family back there.
So MERRY CHRISTMAS from Captain Tom and his Admiral Lilly, we're having more fun than the circus at Piccadilly!

| | More
24/12/2011 | Peter Watt
What a great read! It struck a cord with me and I loved it! Good to see you are on your way again - we are an Australian sailing family aboard the SV Argos and have a blog of our adventures! Merry Christmas to you from Peter, Sue, Erina and Liam
Hot & Dusty
25/11/2011, Banana River at Indian Harbor Beach

After nearly five months on the hard we are so very happy to be afloat again. Like most classic women, she looks better with a little paint, a little powder, and a nicely cut-in waterline. (That is the boat of course, not Lilly.) As we begin the next chapter of our lives together as a cruising couple, we look back at our time in St. Augustine with many fond memories, and new-found friends.

The Oldest City was an enjoyable history lesson for us both. Unfortunately, Lilly had spent most of her college history classes doing laps in a swimming pool, so we do have a bit of catching up in this area. (Tom-Tom, tell me again was Ponce de Leon an astronaut, or did he invent the Internet with Steve Jobs?) Lilly explored the streets and alleyways of the town on a beach cruiser bike, making friends all over town. Since she loves horses, she made several contacts in the carriage tour business. In fact, some of the horses (most of which Lilly knew by name) were stabled in an open paddock adjacent to our boat yard on the outskirts of town. One evening, as we returned to the boat well after dark, we noticed three very large draft horses grazing in the public park across from the boat yard; they had escaped! Well, we quickly found ourselves transformed from sailors to horsemen, and there we were on a very dark night with apples, carrots, and a dinghy painter in hand helping to round up these gentle giants. Our reward, besides helping to ensure the safety of these absolutely beautiful animals, was a complimentary pass on a carriage tour with Ken (an ex-professional jockey) and his horse Big Mike. If you ever get a chance to tour St. Augustine with these guys, by all means do it - we guarantee you will have a memorable and enjoyable experience. We found a temporary church home at Destiny International Church out on US Highway One, pastored by a Harley riding preacher by the name of Donovan, and his spirited wife Nellie. Donovan is truly a great preacher, but he yells like a sailor, and spits like a camel when he gets on a roll - so don't sit too near the front :-) We connected most evenings with the AA folks at the Serenity House, and the air conditioning and camaraderie were most welcome respites from the rigors of the hot and dusty boat yard. We made a huge change in our lives by shifting from Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts - for way better coffee, and nutritious treats on the way to our AA meetings. Another transformation in our lifestyle came when we sold Lilly's pick-em-up truck; cruisers don't have such things, they would only tie us down. But it was nice to have a transition period to wean ourselves off the luxury of a private vehicle, when our Jacksonville friends Dennis and his daughter Karen insisted we drive their SUV for the last two weeks we were in the St. Augustine Marine Center.

In early November we headed south down the ICW to Melbourne, FL for the annual SSCA GAM. It was great to be on the move again. We had a very rewarding time at the GAM seeing old sailing friends, making some new ones, and learning about such diverse topics as SSB radio, cruising the South Pacific, and watching a life raft inflation up close and personal - something we never want to do for real! (FYI, a GAM is a meeting of ships at sea, and an exchange of information between the crews.) Our friends Rick (S/V Nautilus in the Florida Panhandle) and Robert (S/V Circe in Jacksonville) stayed aboard our boat and bunked in the aft cabin, and we had a grand time introducing them to the Seven Seas Cruising Association. After the GAM we crossed over to the east side of the Indian River to Dragon Point and the Banana River, anchoring at Indian Harbor Beach. This is our staging anchorage to work the Project List to prepare Tiger Lilly for her upcoming offshore passage south to the West Indies. Rick stayed after the GAM and helped Tom install our new wind generator, and convert many of our high energy incandescent lights to efficient LED's. The weekend before Thanksgiving we rented a car and drove over to St. Pete to visit with Tom's 90 year-old mom Grace - our dinghy's namesake - before we set out on our extended voyage. Lilly has been saying goodbye to her friends and family for the past several weeks, and now it was Tom's turn. This is one of those difficult moments in the life of a sailor. Do we stay close to our elderly parents, adult children, and young grandchildren, or do we venture forth and explore the world? We simply cannot do both. For us the answer lies with what we want our children to do, and we certainly do not want to hold them back from the joys of life while they wait for us to die. The logic is sound, but the goodbyes are difficult, and as Johnny Depp would say, "It's a pirate's life for me!" Speaking of which, we had a great Thanksgiving back aboard Tiger Lilly in Indian Harbor Beach with Lilly's 21 year-old son Ryan. He showed up sporting a brand new tattoo of a buxom pirate lady with Angelina Jolie like lips, eye patch with embossed skull and cross bones, and the name "TIGER LILLY" inscribed below. Lilly looked at the tattoo, turned to Tom and declared that there was no turning back now, her boy had blessed it and we HAD to go sailing!

Over the next couple of weeks we will continue to work the never-ending Project List until the must-do items for offshore sailing are complete. In early December when the Atlantic Hurricane Season is over, we will shift anchorage to Cape Canaveral to wait for the first good weather-window to head out the Canaveral Inlet and out across the Gulf Stream. We plan to sail offshore some 1600 miles to Antigua in the West Indies; hopefully arriving before Christmas.

One of the projects on the To Do List is to get our new computer working with the HAM radio so that we can update this Blog remotely from sea. If we are successful, you will be able to track our progress and events while on passage - stay tuned, this is not a sure thing. As we transition to the active cruising mode our new Communications Plan will not include cell phones, but we will have other ways to stay in touch: we have just started an account on Facebook, and we will try to learn the art and science of social networking (a natural talent for Lilly, and a forced endeavor for Mr. Personality), our Facebook name is of course Tiger Lilly; we have Skype installed, and with a lot of pre-planning it is theoretically possible to see and talk to you (Tom sez: if I wanted to see or talk to these people I wouldn't go sailing - this is making my hair hurt already!); of course we will still have email at, however our access to the Internet to down load your email will be periodic at best, usually quite brief, and will cost us money each time (so PLEASE DO NOT send us any forwards, jokes, or political rants - which is about 90% of the content of most email in-boxes), but we do want to hear from YOU; and finally, our children will be in direct contact with us via HAM radio email, so if you have a time-sensitive message you can ask one of them to forward it to us.

Well that is about it for this edition of our Blog. We have posted some photos of our time at the St. Augustine Marine Center in our photo albums. To view them click on our PHOTO GALLERY at the top right side of this page and navigate to PORTS OF CALL / USA / SHE SWIMS. SEE YOU THERE!

| | More
Capt. Tom Service
06/10/2011, St. Augustine Marine Center

Tom wrote this article several years ago for the CSY sailboat discussion list. We hope that it will help when you think about offshore safety, and plan out your strategies for keeping your crew aboard and safe.


Perhaps the greatest fear that any offshore skipper has is losing a crewmember overboard while on passage. The main objective of any ocean voyage is to depart and arrive with the same souls-on-board. Souls-on-board is in-fact the official term used to describe a vessel's crew, and the very name depicts the depth of responsibility for which a captain has for his crew. Even if the vicissitudes of the sea come to bear and the vessel herself is lost, that is not the worst that can happen: if we all make it into the liferaft, it is only a boat and boats are replaceable - but not so with a human life. In the case of a sinking, the very effective international SARSAT System has proven itself many times over; the EPIRB will quickly pinpoint a liferaft anywhere in the world, call the cavalry, and all will be well. But time and again human response has fallen short once the Great Ocean swallows a person; the terror and helplessness felt by those left onboard would be overwhelming - and especially so if it is your precious daughter who is lost. In 1991 while on passage in the South Atlantic my daughter Dawn went overboard, and we had mere minutes to avoid such a heart wrenching loss...

We were in the final year of a 4 year circumnavigation, and there were four people aboard my CSY44 walkover sailboat; Dawn (age 16) Jennifer (age 14), my daughter's mother, and myself. We were sailing from Cape Town to Saint Helena, and were just coming off a period of sloppy weather associated with a front coming up out of the Southern Ocean. The wind was down to less than 10 knots, but the sea was still lumpy and confused, the wind-vane self-steering gear was struggling to keep the course, the sails were barely drawing and were annoyingly slatting back and forth as we rolled - very frustrating conditions indeed. Throughout the previous evening, we had been making good speed broad reaching wing-on-wing on the port tack under single reefed main, stays'l, and genoa. By mid-morning the wind was down and the genoa, which was still poled-out to windward, was not doing much. As the boat rolled the sail tried to slat itself to death. I decided to furl the genoa and stow the whisker pole to reduce the outboard weight and reduce the rolling.

Our standard down-wind rig consists of the mainsail vanged, guyed, and sheeted to leeward; staysail double-sheeted flat & hard centerline (reduces the roll, and it helps the wind-vane self-steering gear keep a course downwind as it prevents the head from climbing up on the wind in a puffer); and the genoa poled-out to windward on a whisker pole. The whisker pole is on a track on the forward side of the mast, and it is set independent of the headsail with a topping lift to the mast just below the inner forestay, fore-guy to a forward mooring cleat, and the aft-guy made fast to the midships mooring cleat; this enables the sail to be furled or reefed without having to work the pole. When the mainsail's vang is set up the boarding gate lifeline is open; the vang is attached to the bulwark cap rail at the boarding gate, and the gate fouls the almost vertical vang purchase.

On this particular morning, my daughter Jennifer and her mother were below in the main cabin doing schoolwork. Tom and Dawn were on deck getting ready to furl the genoa and stow the whisker pole. Tom was on the foredeck and Dawn was on the starboard side deck at the boarding gate. We were each wearing work type flotation vests, but neither of us had a life-harness on as it was during daylight conditions and the wind was down. Dawn verbalized my worst nightmare in a single sharp, "eek!" when the boat took a wicked snap roll and then I heard a splash as she went ass over teacup through the open starboard boarding-gate and into the sea. I hollered, "MAN OVERBOARD, STARBOARD SIDE" immediately pointed at her, and moved aft down the deck to the starboard shrouds to hang on - NEVER TAKING MY EYES OFF HER...

As a retired Naval Officer I was familiar with man-overboard procedures, and had conducted hundreds of man overboard drills. The main thing that my experience taught me is the certain knowledge that I could not take my eyes off Dawn for even a second; if I lost visual contact, we would likely never see her again. My first instinct was to determine if she was able to keep herself afloat and upright with her face out of the water; if she had suffered trauma as she went over the side, she may have needed my immediate assistance to survive. Dawn was a savvy boat kid, and as soon as she hit the water she had the presence of mind to hold her arm up with her thumb and pointer finger in the okay sign - so I knew she could take care of herself until we could turn around and pick her up. Of course, my next thought was wondering if Jaws was following in our wake, as he often does on passage; but then I could not do anything about that...

Within a second of my shout, Jennifer and her mom were in the cockpit ready to respond. My orders were 1) deploy the red cockpit throw cushions 2) right full rudder - we turned the boat towards the person in the water so that I did not lose visual contact 3) Start the engine - ahead full. The wind was nearly slack so we just ignored the sails and used the engine to power the boat around. I hung on to the shrouds with one hand and pointed at Dawn with the other as we turned; first beam-on to the sea (rolling deeply) and then up into the eye of the wind. I never took my eyes off Dawn and I never stopped pointing at her. This helped to inform and reassure her mother at the wheel - there was complete silence about the deck with the exception of my conning orders. I directed the movements of the vessel from the starboard-side boarding gate, giving my ex-wife engine and rudder orders. I had Jennifer roller-furl the genoa as we came around, and then had her stand by with the boat hook (which it turned out we did not need). We did a single tight turn, backed-down and brought the boat dead in the water with Dawn at the starboard boarding gate. As the boat rolled towards her I reached over the side and grabbed her by the collar loop on her life jacket, and snatched her to the cap rail in a single movement. Our family / crew had functioned effectively under very stressful circumstances; and Dawn was not in the water for more than five minutes - it all happened so fast. Once we had this soaking wet skinny teenager back in the cockpit safe and secure, the family gathered around her. As the realization of what could have happened set in, we all began to tremble.

When I was the skipper of a Navy salvage and rescue ship, I used to tell the crew that if anyone fell over the side at sea, once they surfaced and read the name Grasp on the stern of the ship, that the best thing they could do was to make peace with their Maker. I regularly reminded them that if they went over the side it was very unlikely that we would ever be able to find and recover them - particularly if we were towing. I taught my family the same thing on our sailboat.

Dawn reported the incident from her perspective thusly: She bent down to pick up a line on deck just as the boat took a wicked snap roll, and she was pitched right past the vang and through the open boarding gate. She said that once she hit the water she saw me looking down at her, and gave me the okay sign, and then the boat was gone. She read the boat's name and hailing port on the stern and said to herself - that is just what Dad said would happen. But just then a wonderful thing occurred - a warm and comforting feeling came over her, and she said that she felt the very presence of God come over her. She said that she knew in her heart that she was okay. Then she just laid back and watched us work the boat back to her.

Wow! The very presence of God is such a wonderful gift for a person to experience, and at such a young age.

Work vests - This incident occurred before SOS Suspenders were available. When at sea, during the hours of darkness we wore both a vest and a life harness when alone on watch or working on deck; and the rule for working on deck was that there had to be at least one other person awake to act as a safety observer. During the day, unless it was blowing a gale, we just wore a work vest on deck. Mobility on deck versus security is a trade-off that each boat / skipper / crew has to consider for themselves. A harness is very cumbersome to move around in, and more than once my harness has caused me problems on deck (even my retractable lanyard is a tripping hazard), but it certainly does keep one attached to the boat at all times.
Visual contact - Pointing at the person in the water and never losing sight of them is important; but of course that is not even an option if you are the only person left aboard the typical mom and pop cruising boat and have to work the vessel alone.
Operating procedures and training - The engine started easily, the crew kept their heads, and all of our equipment functioned correctly. If we had to go through all the complicated man overboard sailing procedures, our propensity for failure would have been greatly increased. Reaction time and simplicity are so very critical in this situation. We do have to be able to maneuver the boat under sail, but when it comes down to life and death - which is exactly what a man overboard is - I will use every asset at my command.
Standard engine and rudder orders - My daughter's mother never liked to drive the boat independently, and she never came out of the cockpit and on deck while underway, but she could understand and execute conning orders expertly. We often operated the boat in this manner as we left a dock, maneuvered through a crowded anchorage, or navigated in coral. This is an important team skill well worth knowing and practicing. It gets the captain off the wheel and in a position to see and do on deck. It never ceases to amuse me as I watch some big gorilla at the wheel of a power boat with a cigar in his mouth and his gut hanging over his belt shouting at Barbie on deck. She whines and cries and tries to use all of her 110 pounds of silicone and fluff to push the high-sided boat off the dock in an on-setting breeze. In the Ma & Pa Kettle cruising sailboat community, Pa is often way back in the cockpit barking orders at some sweet old gal on the foredeck. Ma would be more comfortable interpreting the mysteries of the Dewy Decimal System at the Monday morning Methodist Women's Book Club then trying to master the intricacies of a boat hook in one hand and a fender in the other. My advice is to get Mr. Tough Guy on deck directing the movements of the vessel with standard conning orders and doing the heavy lifting, with Ms. Sweetheart on the wheel executing those orders - and using her good judgment and observation skills to making sure that Mr. Tough Guy does not step on his pea coat sleeve.
Crew cross training - We operated the boat short-handed during our man overboard situation - the Captain could not participate in working the boat other than conning, and our best deck hand was in the water. A typical Mom & Pop cruising boat crew would be very limited with half the crew in the water.
Brightly colored throw cushions - Although we had a horse-collar float with a Dan-buoy attached, we were able to deploy the square red cockpit throw cushions very quickly. This does three things; the cushions mark a datum where the recovery started - and hopefully not too time-late, it provides a common visual point for the swimmer and the boat to rendezvous, and they provide positive flotation for a tired or injured swimmer. If visual contact is lost, these cushions establish a datum to deploy a more permanent marker and start an expanding search pattern. I would have immediately deployed the horse collar and Dan buoy if I lost sight of Dawn, but as long as I could see her I kept all my attention focused on that little blond head in those big blue waves. I am a real believer in these inexpensive red throw cushions - we have four on board and keep at least two in the cockpit at all times. These cushions are a simple, low tech, inexpensive asset - and they have multiple other uses: dinghy cushions in port, kids love to play with them while they swim, and they can prop up the Captain's head while he reads a book or discusses the affairs of the world. We never again saw that cushion we threw at Dawn, but it certainly did its job.

GPS - This incident occurred during the days of SATNAV and before GPS was common on recreational vessels. Today, especially on a short-handed Mom & Pop boat, the GPS is the only practical way to keep track of the person in the water - assuming the MOB button gets pushed, the time-late distance isn't too great, and the person left back aboard knows how to use the GPS information to return to the MOB.
Autopilot remote control - If the person left aboard had an autopilot remote control, they could steer the boat from on deck with an electric autopilot - which most boats already have. Being on deck, they would have a better vantage point for locating, or keeping track, of the MOB.
Lifelines - I realize now that rather than have the mechanical advantage of a vertical mainsail vang, if I angle it outboard on the boom from the cap-rail a foot or so, the life line gate can stay closed while the vang is in use. In practice the vang comes right up the center of the gate and it seems like it would block an exit (at least for a person my size), but somehow Dawn went right through there and did not touch a thing.
SOS suspenders - Although they are hot, heavy, and cumbersome, I try to always wear mine. However, I do not always clip in - it is a matter of individual judgment and experience. When agility is particularly important (like when working with the whisker pole) I often stay free with my lanyard tucked up into my vest so that I don't trip on it. The theoretical answer is always to stay clipped in, but for me, that is not always the most practical way. I not only have to be on deck, I have to move and work on deck.
Time late - It seems to me that the biggest problem on a Mom & Pop boat is to know just when the person goes over. While we were in New Zealand I saw an electronic device aboard a cruising boat that was about the size of a pack of cigarettes which was worn on a watch-standers life vest. When the distance between the life jacket unit becomes more than the programmed amount (boat length) a loud alarm sounds back onboard the boat. The Raymarine LifeTag crew overboard monitoring system works very similar, and this equipment is on S/V Tiger Lilly's Wish List. There are plenty of personal GPS systems with hand-held VHF combos available, but what is needed to solve the Time Late problem is a fully automated system that notifies the off-watch immediately of the MOB situation, and requires no action on the part of a possibly injured or unconscious crew. Existing units that notify the SARSAT system of a MOB are principally useful for body recovery - MOB is a local time-critical problem.
Recovery - Dawn was a skinny teenager, and although my arm and shoulder were a bit sore from snatching her from the sea, she was light enough for me to yank her up unassisted. If it had been a two hundred pound man that had fallen in the water - that would have created a major problem, and getting him back aboard would require a lifting tackle such as our LIFESLING recovery gear.

Well, there you have my experience with MOB at sea. We had a relatively easy situation: warm water, plenty of crew aboard, we were an experienced crew, the person was seen going over the side, a light weight uninjured person was in the water, and the weather wasn't too bad - if any one of these factors had been different I could have lost my precious daughter. The answer to the MOB situation is obviously prevention - the deck is stacked against us regarding discovery and recovery. Think about it.

| | More
RYAN's 21!
Tom & Lilly
26/09/2011, St. Augustine Marine Center

On the afternoon of Saturday, 24 September, we gathered to celebrate Lilly's son Ryan's twenty-first birthday, which would come to pass at the stroke of midnight. Ryan's rite of passage was conducted at the Moody Family Compound in rustic Mandarin, a suburb of Jacksonville. Lilly and Ryan lived in Mandarin for 9 years, and although they have both moved on to new environs, his home is where his heart is. Ryan is currently a Junior at Florida Atlantic University's School of Business at Boca Raton; but he eagerly returned to Mandarin to celebrate the Big Two One with his Mom, the Moody Family and some of his motocross Homies. To view some photos of this celebration please navigate to our PHOTO GALLERY (on the upper right side of this page) thusly: CREW / FAMILY & FRIENDS / RYAN'S 21st BIRTHDAY.

| | More
Capt. Tom Service
26/09/2011, St. Augustine Marine Center

In 1999 Tom was the Ombudsman for a marine insurance company, and at their request he wrote this article for "SOUTHWINDS" sailing magazine. The original logs from the Coast Guard's Atlantic Operations Center, interviews with S/V Kampeska's owners, and input from the air crew who flew this challenging mission were used to develop this actual story of courage, heartbreak, and the raw power of the sea. This is the real deal. As the end of the 2011 hurricane season approaches, and we begin to plan our passages south to the tropics, perhaps now would be a good time to review (or develop) our individual heavy weather management plans. I hope this helps.
Warm regards,
Tom & Lilly Service
S/V Tiger Lilly

In early November 1998 Roy and Karen Olson were under way aboard their Tayana 42 cutter S/V Kampeska with 68 other boats in the West Marine Caribbean 1500 Rally. They departed from Norfolk with 52 other boats, while 16 boats had sailed from Newport. Their destination was Virgin Gorda in the balmy British Virgin Islands. Roy's brother, Roger, and his wife, Judee, were sailing as crew. Typical of mom & pop cruising couples, Roy and Karen had worked hard together and spent a lot of money putting their dream of a liveaboard cruising sailboat together. They named their beloved cruising home after Lake Kampeska, a peaceful body of water back home in South Dakota where they learned to love the water. They had equipped Kampeska for the dual roles of safe offshore passage making, and providing a comfortable retirement home for a husband and wife. The Olsons had more sailing and cruising experience than the majority of their Rally-mates heading South. They had over 10,000 miles of bluewater sailing behind them, and 13 months living aboard another vessel in the Caribbean. They had easily met all of the safety equipment requirements listed in an extensive Rally checklist. After a prolonged period ashore preparing their boat, these eager and energetic sailors had completed their preparations and were setting out to explore the West Indies. All hands aboard Kampeska were looking forward to cruising the sunny Caribbean, but first they had to get there.

When S/V Kampeska left Norfolk heading southeast on 1 November 1998 they had a clear weather report and light conditions. On that same Sunday afternoon, Tropical Depression Mitch, the remnants of the strongest October hurricane ever recorded, was dissipating and producing torrential rains over the jungles of the Guatemala - Mexico border. Neither the crew of the Kampeska, nor the staff of the Caribbean 1500, who provided the Rally with twice daily weather reports, had any idea that they were heading for a rendezvous with the tail end of a Central American hurricane. The first two days out of Chesapeake Bay the crew enjoyed a full range of conditions and pleasant sailing, but by the third day underway the wind had built to a formidable 30 knots out of the southwest. Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Mitch wandered into the Bay of Campeche some 1600 miles south-southwest of S/V Kampeska and found new life in the bay's warm waters. With a developed low level circulation building the system back to Tropical Storm force, Mitch began to move across the Yucatan Peninsula toward the east with a renewed determination. Wednesday 4 November found Kampeska pounding to weather in gale force winds from the southwest. That morning, Roy Olson received a weather report from the Rally weather forecasters ashore that a deep low-pressure system to the north was bearing down on the Caribbean 1500 Fleet. Many of the boats headed for Bermuda to seek safe haven. However, the decision was made that Kampeska would press south at best speed in an effort to stay below the low. Mid-morning on that same day, Mitch, attenuated by the effects of land and again reduced to Tropical Depression force, cleared the Yucatan and began a march to the northeast across the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico. As it headed for South Florida, Mitch became involved with a frontal zone moving through the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Within hours Mitch was back up to tropical storm strength, and very much back into the picture. Kampeska and her crew were only 36 hours away from being caught in a deadly pincer between two very powerful and distinct weather systems. On Thursday 5 November Kampeska was laboring in 40 knots of wind that had backed into the south and was strengthening each hour. Progress early in the day was difficult, and by the afternoon she was unable to make any headway in the storm force winds. By nightfall they were about 200 miles southwest of Bermuda; the wind was howling a steady 50 knots from the south, with gusts to 60 and 70 knots. At 2000 the decision was made to ride out the storm lying ahull - the sails were furled, the wheel was lashed, and the crew went below. As the deep North Atlantic low-pressure system overtook them, Kampeska and her crew were at the mercy of a violent sea. On the morning of 5 November Mitch slammed into Naples with 60 knot winds, punched its way across the South Florida Peninsula, and barreled out across the Straights of Florida like a freight train - fueled by the warmth of the Gulf Stream. By that afternoon Mitch cleared the northern Bahamas tracking to the northeast - with a speed of advance of approximately 50 knots - where the cool waters of the North Atlantic transformed Mitch into a powerful extra-tropical low-pressure system. It was a difficult night aboard Kampeska. With no sail to steady her as the storm force winds battered on her beam, she was tossed violently about in the trough of heavily breaking seas. The fury of the two approaching weather systems played havoc with the sea, heaping its surface into steep and confused waves, and putting Kampeska in the grip of storm force winds. It was a dirty night, and the graybeards of the North Atlantic were out. Thankfully, toward daylight on the morning of 6 November conditions began to moderate, and the sea did not seem so violent. As sailors have done since man first started going down to the sea, the crew found hope as they anticipated sunrise - perhaps the worst was over. At about 0500 the small secure world below deck on Kampeska was shattered when she was boarded by a "rouge" wave on the beam. Kampeska was rolled, capsized, and dismasted. Disaster had struck on the way to paradise, and 4 souls found themselves in a battle for survival on a very big and dangerous ocean.

When S/V Kampeska righted herself, the deck was cleared of all structure and equipment; the life raft was gone, and the previously deck-stepped mast hung over the side - suspended under the boat by its rigging. Each time the boat rolled in the beam-on 20 foot seas, the mast battered the hull. Roy was flat on the cabin sole with a broken back, and his brother, Roger, had taken such a severe blow to the head that he didn't know where he was. Both men were out of commission. Karen had broken ribs, and Judee had been battered and bruised as everyone and everything in the interior of the boat was tumbled and smashed as the vessel capsized. The unsecured floorboards were adrift, opening the bilge to the food, dishes, and books that were sliding around on the cabin sole. Major gear and equipment stayed in place, but some of the drawers and lockers had opened under the impact of the wave. It is hard to imagine a more traumatic event than turning over a small boat, full of people, in a violent sea. Thankfully, Kampeska maintained her structural and watertight integrity, taking only a nominal amount of water in the bilge. However, the gear adrift in the bilges clogged the pump strainers. These folks are from hearty South Dakota stock, and Karen and Judee, under the direction of Roy on his back on the cabin sole, set about the task of sorting this mess out. But first they activated their 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) to summon assistance.

Kampeska's EPIRB signal was detected by the SARSAT 7 search and rescue satellite orbiting high above the North Atlantic, and down-linked to the French Maritime Control Center at Toulouse. The data was processed, Kampeska's position determined, and the information was relayed to the US Mission Control Center (USMCC) at Suitland, MD. It was early on the morning of 6 November when the USMCC duty officer notified the USCG Atlantic Area staff in Portsmouth, VA that Kampeska's mariners were in distress. As a determined crew aboard Kampeska fought to save their vessel, an equally determined professional search and rescue team ashore sprang into action. Thus began a combined rescue operation that would involve hundreds of sailors, airmen, and support staff all along the US Eastern Seaboard, working together in foul weather and dangerous conditions to bring these 4 souls home safely. The following events were immediately initiated: two USCG C-130 Hercules long range search aircraft and one HH-60J Jayhawk rescue helo were dispatched from the USCG Air Station at Elizabeth City, NC; USN E-2 air early warning aircraft was launched from the Norfolk Naval Air Station to assist the USCG air search; the 21,000 ton bulk carrier M/V Northern Progress was diverted from her voyage to Jamaica and sent to the SARSAT position; the USS Enterprise Battle Group diverted a destroyer to provide at-sea refueling (a "Lilypad") for the USCG rescue helo; USAF para-rescue jumpers were put on standby at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; and a sea-going tug and doctor were put on standby in Bermuda. About 5 hours after Kampeska's crew declared an emergency by turning their EPIRB on, the first USCG C-130 search aircraft had found them, dropped a radio and medical supplies, and was talking to the crew. By early afternoon the M/V Northern Progress had arrived at Kampeska's location. With the wind blowing 28 knots and seas still at 15 to 20 feet, conditions at the scene made it very difficult to maneuver a 21,000 ton single-screw merchant ship, sailing in-ballast, alongside the drifting hulk of a 42 foot sailboat. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to put a line over to Kampeska. The Captain of M/V Northern Progress reported to the USCG that the situation was serious. The seas were too rough to continue any further attempts to transfer personnel, and it was apparent to him that Kampeska's crew was "distraught and exhausted." Kampeska's crew needed to be removed from the hulk as soon as possible. Two other sailing yachts in the area, S/V Elixir and S/V Alexia (with a disabled engine) had heard the rescuers talking to Kampeska on the VHF radio, and they sailed to the scene to stand by her. The Captain of M/V Northern Progress positioned his ship upwind of Kampeska to provide them a lee from the wind and heavy seas that were still running. As darkness fell over the North Atlantic, M/V Northern Progress illuminated the hulk of Kampeska with her powerful searchlight. With a surface personnel transfer not possible, the USCG Air Station at Elizabeth City launched an HH-60 rescue helo and the second C-130 escort for the long night flight to Bermuda. This was not an every-day operation for the HH-60 helo crew. Positioning the HH-60 in Bermuda dictated an at-sea night refueling on the pitching deck of a Navy destroyer; a very challenging operation that required the highest level of airmanship. After the 4 ½ hour flight, both aircraft were staged at Bermuda for a first-light rescue attempt early the next morning. The merchant seamen aboard M/V Northern Progress illuminated the disabled sailboat throughout the night. They could only offer prayers of hope for the 4 souls aboard Kampeska's hulk, as they watched Kampeska pounded by the still-angry sea. Clearly, their fate was in God's hands that dark night.

Although the day began with the passive and irreversible act of energizing their EPIRB, Kampeska's crew bravely worked together with determination and purpose to preserve their tenuous situation until help arrived. The first order of business was to clear the bilge. Considering the blow that Kampeska had been dealt, there was surprisingly little water inside the boat. Although Roy kept a good clean bilge, the unsecured floorboards allowed books, food, and the contents of the galley sink to enter the bilge and foul the pumps. Karen and Judee, both painfully injured, worked systematically in the lurching cabin to repeatedly clear the bilge pump strainers. Although the engine would start and run, the electrical system had been damaged during the capsize, and the alternator would not charge the batteries. With the remnants of the rigging hanging over the side, using the rudder and engine to head her up into the wind and seas would immediately foul the propeller. Roy had kept the batteries charged up during the storm, so they had adequate power to run the pumps and dewater the boat - if they were not holed. Once cleared, the pumps were able to keep up with the minimal ingress of seawater. Apparently the hull was still sound. The rechargeable battery for the handheld VHF radio was low, but the 110 VAC inverter was out of commission and could not be used to charge it. When the first Coast Guard C-130 appeared overhead, Kampeska used the radio to receive their instructions, but were very limited on power to transmit. They had all the necessary tools aboard to clear the wreckage of the mast and rigging; however, with no way to steady the boat as she lay in the trough across the heavy seas, her motion was so violent that neither of the women could go forward on the wrecked deck to work without danger of going over the side. Kampeska's hull would just have to withstand the beating from the mast until they were rescued. There was no other option. Kampeska's violent motion made it very difficult to recover the radios that the C-130 dropped to them, but on the second try they were successful and established two-way communications with their rescuers. Likewise, when the M/V Northern Progress saw their flares and approached the wreck, the rough seas and Kampeska's excessive motion made working on deck and recovering the messenger line an impossible task. The heavy seas made it extremely dangerous for Kampeska to get too close to the high steel sides of M/V Northern Progress. Without a life raft, they were grateful that M/V Northern Progress, S/V Elixir, and S/V Alexia were standing by them. They had been informed by Northern Progress' Captain of the Coast Guard's plan to take them off by helo early the next morning, but first they had to get through another night on the stormy North Atlantic. With a tenacious faith and discipline that few individuals could muster in such a dangerous and uncomfortable situation, Karen maintained the morale and strength of the crew by feeding them. Their last meal aboard Kampeska consisted of cereal, fruit, crackers, and orange juice. Those 4 souls spent that long night bathed in M/V Northern Progress' search light, wearing large offshore-style life jackets, and praying that Kampeska's hull could withstand the constant battering from her mast.

Just prior to dawn on the morning of 7 November the second C-130 called Kampeska on the radio; they and the HH-60 rescue helo were inbound to their position. The crew prepared to leave Kampeska for the last time. By now they had spent 26 difficult hours in a drifting 42 foot hulk on a tumultuous sea. In spite of the women's best efforts, the crew was worn out both mentally and physically. Kampeska's location southwest of Bermuda required that the HH-60 helo crew fly a 440 mile round trip, with only 60 minutes of fuel available for time on-station to complete the rescue of 4 people from the deck of a small boat in 30 knots of wind and 15 to 20 foot seas. Although this helo crew was only the spear-head of an enormous search and rescue organization, the young Coast Guard men and women who fly these difficult and dangerous missions are truly modern day heroes. With the C-130 overhead flying cover and providing a communications link ashore, the HH-60 approached Kampeska and splashed a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. The rescue swimmer boarded Kampeska and began briefing her crew for evacuation. Roger, Judee, and Karen were individually hoisted from the cabin top to the helo in the rescue-transfer basket. Getting Roy, with a broken back, off the heaving deck of Kampeska without further injury required the finest technique by the rescue swimmer in the most arduous of circumstances. Roy nearly passed out from the pain of moving from the cabin sole to the cockpit, but there was no alternative. The rescue basket was lowered into the violently rolling cockpit, and Roy was snatched off Kampeska for the final time. The rescue swimmer was hoisted back aboard the helo; it had taken over 40 minutes on station to complete the rescue. S/V Kampeska, once the trim and secure sea-going home of Roy and Karen Olson, was now an abandoned derelict - adrift and at the mercy of the mighty North Atlantic. The 1 ½ hour flight back to Bermuda was a difficult time for Kampeska's crew. Although they were now safe from the rigors of the sea, and the dangerous situation aboard Kampeska, Roy's condition was cause for serious concern.

Ambulances were waiting on the tarmac for the Coast Guard Jayhawk helo as it touched down in Bermuda. With less than 10% of their fuel left, and a maximum load of passengers aboard, the helo's crew had completed this challenging rescue at the outer limit of their aircraft's operational envelope. Kampeska's crew was immediately transported to the hospital in Hamilton, where the doctors advised that Roy had to be evacuated to the US mainland for extensive medical treatment as soon as possible. Karen notified the folks at the Blue Water Lifeline - Worldwide Assistance Services that Roy needed to be evacuated to the United States as soon as possible: a call she never wanted to make, but was so thankful that she was able to. A Lear jet air ambulance with a medical evacuation team aboard was dispatched to Bermuda. Roy and Karen were flown to Baltimore, where Roy was admitted to Johns Hopkins Medical Center for treatment. Roger and Judee were treated for their injuries in Bermuda, and returned home to South Dakota on commercial air. All four survivors are now back home convalescing. Roy is up and about, his broken back on the mend. Roger has fully recovered from his concussion and is back to work. Karen's broken ribs are healed, as are Judee's cuts and bruises. Kampeska was last reported seen a week after the incident by the 20,000 ton Indonesian bulk carrier M/V Pooja, about 65 miles southeast of where she was abandoned. She was given up to the vicissitudes of the sea and declared lost: Roy and Karen's shattered dream, to live aboard Kampeska and sail the grand oceans of the world, was also gone...

As a former Commanding Officer of a US Navy salvage & rescue ship I have participated in several high seas rescue and towing operations. During my 1987-1991 circumnavigation aboard my CSY44 I was caught in an Indian Ocean cyclone a full 2 months before Tropical Storm Season. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the Olsons were indeed very lucky. Usually events like this are simply reported as "vessel has gone missing in heavy weather and presumed lost with all hands." As cruising sailors, I suggest that we all take a few moments and think about the Olson's experience aboard Kampeska - caught between two powerful storm systems in the North Atlantic. What should have been a routine passage, which typically includes some heavy weather, turned into a major search and rescue operation. Hundreds of people, and an awful lot of the taxpayer's money, were expended on behalf of 4 cruisers adrift on their damaged sailboat. Other cruising sailboats were exposed to similar conditions during that same storm and survived intact. Each year we read accounts of yachts caught in heavy weather and damaged or lost. Yet, it is not at all unusual that nearby vessels of a similar size were exposed to the same conditions, with a far different - and more successful - outcome. Why? I believe that only part of the answer is luck. Rouge waves do form and cause havoc in their path, but mostly the differences can be explained by the actions of the individual crews.

A vessel laying a-hull and beam-to in breaking seas is in grave danger of being knocked down and capsized. The weather systems that produce such conditions are not rare, and can be experienced on almost any ocean passage - even those conducted during the "right season." If we intend to sail offshore this coming sailing season, prudence dictates we review our own situations: our boats, our gear, our personal training and experience, and have a realistic storm management plan - which we have actually drilled. I found Heavy Weather Sailing by Coles and Bruce, and The Storm Tactics Handbook by Lin & Larry Pardee to be excellent guides on this subject. I believe that both books, based on the actual experience of riding out many storms at sea by the expert seamen who wrote them, make an air-tight case for using storm trysails with sea anchors, and storm jibs with drouges to safely and comfortably deal with conditions like those which capsized S/V Kampeska. Sailors have been using the "safety valve" of heaving to in heavy weather for hundreds of years. Are you and your vessel prepared to effectively heave to? Have you actually drilled your proposed plan in even moderate (25-30 knot) conditions? Think about it... before you sail offshore.

To view the photos and a graphic that go with this posting please navigate to our PHOTO GALLERY (upper right corner of this page) thusly: TIGER LILLY'S BEST / THE LOSS OF KAMPESKA.

| | More
02/01/2012 | George Rommel
Absolutely superb writing. Riveting story.

Newer ]  |  [ Older ]


Powered by SailBlogs