The Squel to the Movie: Perfect Storm
14 February 2015 | Beaufort, N.C.
30 deg, 50 kt winds, 35 Ft. breaking seas
* Date: Feb 13, 2015
* Location: 60+ Nautical Miles east of South Carolina
* Time: 23:30
* Temperature: 30 degrees Fahrenheit
* Winds: 50+ knots due east
* Waves: 35+ ft breaking swells, coming from three directions
* Visability: zero; pitch black moonless night
* Ships Status: Rigging failures; taking on water; 75 percent loss of control
* Crew Status: hyperthermia in progress; no food for 18+ hours
... as the US Navy, and a USCG Chopper arrive on the scene, to begin a series of four rescue attempts at sea...
The Abridged Story: The sailing vessel Trio, met it's unfortunate demise as the convergence of a massive winter storm that arrived several hours early. The storm penetrated deeper south than expected. The near dead calm winds for several hours before the storm, stranded the sailing vessel Trio, dead in the cross hairs of an impending doom. The result was a World-class at Sea Rescue initiated by SPOT (a rescue beacon) and executed by the US Navy and the US Coast Guard.
The voyage began in Beaufort, S.C., where we launched the sailing vessel Trio, on a voyage down the eastern U.S. coastline on our way to Pensacola Florida. The sailing vessel Trio is a 40 ft. World-Class racing, trimaran sailboat; a Condor 40. The Condor sailing vessel, was designed to race across the Atlantic Ocean at speeds up to 40 knots. Each of the four crew members, brought a critical unique skill set resulting in the successful heroic battling of an unrelenting storm; 50+ knot winds, 35+ ft. breaking ocean swells coming from three directions, with temperatures dropping to 30 degrees. The Skipper, a former Navy Seal; the 1st mate, an Electrical Engineer, and sailor; the 2nd mate, a lady sailor, seasoned in the tactics of sailboat racing; the 3rd mate, the Skipper's 14 yr old son, possessed the stamina, calm and control that a mature man would be proud to possess.
The voyage began off the coast of South Carolina, at 16:33 on Feb 13, 2015, winds 14 knots out of the northwest; temperature 49 degrees and dropping; sunset would begin at 18:07 and slide into a moonless night. The sail plan for the next 24 hours, at an average speed of 10 knots or more, would put us in the region of Daytona Beach, FL; which is much warmer and significantly south of a massive winter storm heading down toward Beaufort, S.C..
As the sun set and the temperatures dropped, all went according to plan. The sailing vessel Trio, under full sails, was briskly cruising along at 15 knots, which would position us well south of the impending winter storm; not due for another 12 hours. As the evening matured on the inky black night, the temperature dropped to 31 degrees, and the winds began to slow to a near stand still until deep into the night. As the morning sun peaked over the welcomed horizon, the sails were once again filled and the temperatures began to rise. All was well, and my duty shift was now over, as I (the 1st mate) headed into my bunk for some well over due sleep.
At 11:17 in the morning, what sounded like a shotgun being fired, was followed by the voice of the Skipper calling for "all hands on deck". The enormously large main sail, mounted on a mast reaching a height of 60 ft., was flying freely in the wind; only the lazy jack sail system held the main sail raggedly in place. A stainless steel 3/16 inch cable, attached to the main sail clew, had exploded under the stress of the climbing winds. From this point onward, a non-stop sequence of potentially disasterous issues, was mitigated by the heroic courage, teamwork, ample resources, and a brilliant capacity to assess the situation and find a solution.
Over the next several hours, the sails were reduced to bare poles; a large drogue was deployed to slow the boat down from 20 knots to 12 knots; the main cabin was taking on water from a leak somewhere under the hull; the mast with a height of 60 ft., had two structural support cables break loose; a portside window had broken out allowing more water to enter the cabin; the winds climbed up to 50+ knots, the ocean swells increased to 35+ft., and the white caps turned into breaking waves; the breaking swells began attacking the sailing vessel Trio from three sides; the entire crew became sea sick except myself; after several hours of deployment, the thick nylon line towing the large drogue, snaps (breaks) under enormous tension; without the drogue, the poor stability and control of the sailboat degraded further, and begins racing along at 20 knots due east into the abyss of the Atlantic Ocean; the storm anchor was deployed and teathered to the stern of the sailboat, to replace the drogue; the sailboat experiences a major broach about every 20 minutes; during a broach, the 40 ft. trimaran would raise up one of its enormous amas (pontoon) into the air and reach for the sky, and then ever so gracefully, the ama would return back to the water; there was a 5 knot current in the water running north, perpendicular to the direction of the sailboat, which further aggravated the potential for the sailboat to be broached. During a broach, the potential for a sailboat to be rolled is significant. If a trimaran sailboat is rolled over, it will forever remain upside down.
In order to retain stability (anti-broach), the stern of the sailboat should remain pointed at the breaking swell coming from one of three directions. As the night air approached, the temperature was dropping, and the blind darkness of a moonless night, made it impossible to navigate according to the breaking swells. We could no longer point the stern at a breaking swells, further aggravating the potential for the sailboat to be broached.
At this point in the voyage, half the crew had been up for 36 hours. None of the crew had eaten or retained food for 18 hours. Hypothermia was beginning to set in. Navigation was reduced to one crewman calling out the compass heading, while a second crewman adjusted the helm in a mostly futile attempt to retain a heading of due east. The sailboat was being constantly broached, as swells crashed into an ama, or over the stern.
At 18:06 the Skipper called for a meeting with the crew. The Skipper asked each crew member if it was time to ignite the SPOT rescue beacon; the answer was unanimously, yes. For the next two and a half hours, the crew huddled up against the cockpit cabin wall, emersed in the darkness of the night, the cold, and the swells crashing over the sailboat. Each of us, in his own way, sat quietly and pondered the reality of this day; each minute weighed as heavy as an hour. Although we were caught up in the jaws of a desperate situation, waves crashing over the sailboat, over and over again, we sat quietly shivering, hungry, and exhausted. An iron dome of confidence inspired by the Skipper, the sailboat integrity, and the fact that we had a SPOT rescue beacon activated, fortified us with hope, courage, and energy.
The rescue process involved two helicoptors; one from the Naval USS George Bush aircraft carrier, the second from the US Coast Guard, followed by a seemingly endless series of highly trained heroic rescue attempts over the next hour or so. In the context of an ocean rescue, especially in the dead of a dark night, in major storm conditions, in freezing temperatures,... the last option for a rescue attempt, is to keep track of and then fish a crew member out of the ragging waters. However, time was running out. The helicopter would soon be out of fuel. In the end, each crew member had to abandon ship, one at a time, and hope the US Coast Guard did not loose sight of him (her) in the pitch black darkness of the heavy seas of the Atlantic ocean, in a major winter storm.
The key principles of our eventful rescue were: physical resources (tools, spare parts, gear); the team cohession generated by the relentless leadership in a never wavering demonstration of heroic calm demeanor and courage of the Skipper to execute and carry out very dangerous tactics and procedures; and the personal peace of mind that we had a SPOT rescue beacon on board, which demonstrated that when all else fails, SPOT delivers the reliability your life can depend on.
Today, the crew is alive and well in Pensacola FL. Once a year, they gather for a social reunion and celebration. The Skipper is building a sailboat; his son has continued with his High School studies; the lady sailor is now a US Coast Guard licensed Captain; and I have started a Sailing Tour business here in Pensacola; Sinbad Sail Ventures
My website is: SinbadSailVentues.com