So if you want to test the limits and strength of your relationship, get on a boat and sail into the big blue ocean. It’s out here, when you’ve spent days or weeks together and fatigue and sore muscles abound that you really begin to know each other. You learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses and tipping points. There are days when a simple look or word can hurt the other or create feelings of frustration. Yes, this is just part of the journey.
But, in the midst of bickering over who left the coffee pot on the stove to spill or how there’s a better way to access the freezer, you get the radio call we all dread hearing. A fellow boater from the fleet is drifting and considering abandoning ship. What’s worse, it’s not because they are on fire or the boat is sinking. It’s due to a steering issue. The boat itself is solid.
As sailors we all agree on one thing; you never leave your vessel until the last possible moment. As one dear friend, Ray of SV Seanote, said to me, “You never step down into a life raft. You step up into one.” This means you don’t get off until getting off is the only thing that keeps you above the water.
That said, simply drifting at the whim of the sea with no ability to control your course can also be very dangerous. With just the right set of swells and wind to hit you broadside your boat could roll over and begin taking on water. A truly good sailor knows how to heave to. This is essentially parking the boat in the ocean. You steer headlong into the wind and set your sail and rudder just right and voila you almost stop the vessel from moving. Sure, it still drifts a little but it stays well positioned in the sea. This can prevent a rollover and you can literally stay this way for days.
The vessel in question here is SV Aftermath. She’s a Canadian flagged vessel with a Captain, John, and two crew aboard. They’ve been literally plagued with issues since they left Banderas Bay about ten days ago. First their spinnaker got tangled in their rigging, then the HF radio was causing the autopilot to do crazy Ivans, then a leak in the hydraulic lines to the autopilot and now the whole thing has seized up leaving them with only an emergency tiller to use for steering. The problem with that is it’s in the aft cabin so you can’t see where you’re going and steer at the same time. If you’ve ever tried to hand steer a sailboat in rough weather you know that it’s critical to be able to see the swells and watch everything going on around you. Yes, it’s a bad design but it’s what they have to work with right now.
Unfortunately for John his two crew members have had enough fun and want to get off the vessel. As you can understand, it’s not that easy. Yes, there are other boats coming through but we all have limited space and provisions on board and since their lives are not in immediate peril, it’s not really something many are willing to take on. I mean, we would have turned in a split second if she was sinking, but asking us or any boat for that matter, to reverse course and beat into 8’ – 10’ swells and 20 knot winds just because two crew members don’t want to do the hard work is a bit much. When you step onto a boat making this sort of passage you are accepting a level of responsibility and loyalty to the Captain and the vessel. You can’t just jump ship because it’s not fun anymore.
And that’s only part of it. There’s the risk to the “rescuing” boat and her crew as well as to the crew hoping to get off of Aftermath. Let’s face it, out here you don’t just pull up alongside the other boat and have them step onto yours. No, this is not a redneck yacht club. This would involve putting those crew members in the water and that is dangerous no matter how you do it.
Nonetheless, Captain John put out a plea on the net last night asking if anyone would be willing to take his crew. We heard crickets! Perhaps because Captains wanted to consult with their crews or perhaps for the very reasons I’ve previously stated. Either way I believe his crew needs to suck it up and do what needs to be done.
There’s another component here I’ve yet to mention and that is if the crew gets off, Captain John is left to single hand this vessel some 1400 miles. It would be difficult at best to do it with crew aboard when you could have someone in the cockpit telling the person at the tiller where to steer, but to have one person trying to do both is just not a good idea. Add in the fatigue factor and this is a very bad idea in any terms.
On the net last night Dan as well as Ernie, the Captain on SV Patience tried to talk to John about the dangers involved in trying to single hand his vessel in its current state. John listened but I’m not sure, if in his state of extreme fatigue, he was really processing it. “I know it’s a risk but I’m just not ready to give up my boat.” John told Dan over the radio. John built the entire inside of his boat and so obviously he’s got his heart and soul into it and it sounds to me like he’s thinking with his heart, not his head. In the end, she’s just a boat and we all have to be mentally prepared to leave our homes if and when the time comes.
There is an entire fleet of vessels out here hoping and praying they are able to get Aftermath into port yet most of us are thinking the same thing. At some point you have to be prepared to cut your losses, contact SARS (Search & Rescue) and scuttle the boat. For now, no one has stepped up to take on his crew so they are stuck in their situation. It’s our hope that they will step up, dig in and do what needs to be done to get them through it. Quite frankly that’s the best option for all involved.
We’ll keep you posted on what transpires with SV Aftermath and her crew. In the meantime, keep them in your thoughts and prayers, I know we will be.
Until next time,
P.S. I guess it goes without saying that we quit caring about the spilled coffee and the freezer. After all, we are together and safe on Dazzler, what is there to bicker about?
P.S.S. As you can see we are experiencing some rain and squalls. For those asking themselves why I’m happy and dry while Dan is in foulies and chilled to the bone, let me say I was that way at 4 a.m. I have since volunteered for watch duty again but Dan refused saying only one of us needs to be wet and miserable. You see, even on Dazzler it’s not always sunsets and cocktails.