Serious Injury On Board
At the end of May, 2004 I set out from Cuba with two crew, Pete and Mike, bound for Horta in the Azores. This passage would take over 3 weeks and cover nearly 3000 nautical miles. 2 weeks into the passage we were hit with a severe gale force 9 for 2 days. In the open Ocean and with little current this is not the least bit frightening in a well found boat and with minimal sails up.
We were, in fact, all enjoying the spectacle of natures fury with white topped waves rolling past, spume being whipped off the top of them and wind shrieking in the rigging and heeling us well over.
While Mike slept off watch below, Pete came up to join me and take some photos of natures fury. Pete has sailed thousands of miles before with me and is very experienced but for some reason he had failed to attach his safety harness. A large wave struck us and he was flung across the cockpit, striking the hard side of it but, miraculously, being saved from going over the side by the canvass cockpit cover we had up. Pete is 6 foot 6 inches and 17 stone and it was amazing that he didn't burst through the canvas. He was, however, in great pain and (it was later confirmed) had broken some ribs, fractured his pelvis and a vertebrae.
We still had over a week of open ocean to go so we man handled him down below and stuffed him as comfortably as possible in the forepeak and administered strong pain killers.
The next day, with the severe gale still blowing, Pete got bored and struggled back up to the cockpit for a change of scenery. I told Pete to hang on securely as I was about to gybe (move the sails over to the other side whilst downwind sailing). This is not an easy thing to do on your own in a severe gale! Pete insisted on holding on to one of the ropes to help me. I reluctantly agreed and commenced the gybe. As the boat rolled over to the other tack Pete again lost his seating and 17 stones of him plummeted towards me. I released the wheel and leapt back out of the way of him for fear of serious damage to myself. This time he struck the wheel and then the edge of a stainless steel canopy support. His head was covered in blood. The boat was completely out of control with ropes whipping everywhere and tangling around themselves.
I had to urgently sort the boat out, so I apologised to Pete, stuffed him in a corner and shouted down to Mike (sleeping below) to come up and help him whilst I went on deck to sort out the tangle of sails and rope. It was quite a task (none of my ropes are led back to the cockpit other than the fore sail halyards which were by now whipping across the fore deck). I finally sorted everything out and returned to the cockpit. Blood was everywhere, Pete was in severe pain and I had adrenalin pumping through my body so I hove the boat to (effectively stalling it by backing the foresail and making everything more stable). We all sat quietly in the cockpit assessing our situation and calming down. We were all facing each other, into the center of the cockpit and not looking outside at the gale. Suddenly the boat went weightless - it's the most un nerving feeling on a boat I've ever had. None of us were looking out so we can't be sure what happened - we can only guess that we had fallen off the top of a giant wave. Horrified, I got us out of the hove to situation and we sailed off back on course with no harm done - other than to Pete, who was stuffed back into the forepeak for the rest of the passage (a week). The next day the storm abated and we caught a 12 pound blue marlin!
We stuffed Pete with loads of painkillers and for the first couple of days Mike was concerned he might die as howls of pain came from the forecabin on a regular basis as he was rolled about by the boats motion. He did look like death. The blood on his head was from a relatively superficial wound but clearly his skeleton was not in good shape after it's double battering. Once a day we had to painfully manhandle him down to the tiny toilet and back which must have been dreadfull for him.
When we arrived in Horta a doctor was called out and ordered him stretchered off the boat. Pete was diagnosed in hospital to have a cracked vertebrae, fractures in his pelvic bone and broken ribs. The Doctor said he was lucky to have had the second fall (that confined him to the forepeak) because if he had remained active he could have punctured a lung with his broken ribs and thus died.
It was many months before Pete recovered and several years before his wife would allow him to sail with me again.
If you are interested in reading Peter's version of events then
- click on "Peter's Version.doc below
- enable editting
- then Open (or whatever)
- then double click on the "square"
Some of these processes may take a little time
I notice that there are some discrepancies between our two versions which I have not attempted to reconcile. Peter's version was produced shortly after the event but he was suffering distress at the time of the event. My version is produced a long time after the event. Also we both have our particular "reputations" to protect!
PS I have recently carefully studied the Atlantic chart and our route across and discovered that we crossed an area called "Corner Seamounts". Where our weightless experience occured the sea depth goes from over 2000 metres to 5.5 metres and back to over 2000 metres again in a very short distance. So, even with a small current, there is a massive amount of water being forced up and over a very shallow reef and this must cause an effect of a surge of water rising up to go over this reef and falling off the top like a waterfall or rapid. I think that falling off the other side of the reef must have caused the weightless feeling.