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My Big Freakin Stupid Sail
Just saw your post (was out sailing) so here's the story ( as well as I remember it) BTW I drink Barbancourt Reserve aged 15-years
I’ll never forget the sound of the wind, shrieking through the rigging like some demented monster and it went on and on and on…
This happened a long time ago -- beginning of March 1962 to be exact – so some of the details are a bit hazy, but as I remember our BFS:
There were four us, all in college. We co-owned a 37-ft steel ketch named Maelstrom. She was a heavy boat, full keel, very strongly built. We kept her on the Connecticut shore and sailed a lot in Buzzards Bay .
Anyway that year we had all finished our finals early and the next semester didn't start until April so we decided to go sailing. The weather, as I remember it, was beautiful, rather warm for that time of year. I'm not sure who got the idea first but we decided to sail to Bermuda.
We'd done it before-- twice -- but in mid-June. In fact one the greatest feelings of accomplishment I've ever felt was sighting Hamilton light after navigating us there using sextant and reduction tables (that's another story).
We set the boat up, made sure all our systems were ready, our safety gear was inspected and we set off. What we didn't do was get a long or even medium range weather forecast. If we had, we might have seen what was coming and stayed close to home. Never do that again.
Anyway off we went. The first couple of days were really good, decent wind, nice weather until the second night when the wind and seas start to build by the third day we were carrying 30-knot winds with gusts up to maybe 50. The wind was coming off our port beam and we were riding under a storm staysail and mizzen. Taking down the jib and the main were interesting . It took three of us to do it.
This being the days before GPS and Loran we couldn't navigate accurately enough to try to run for the Chesapeake. It would have been all dead reckoning and if we missed it would have been all over. The water was cold even through the foul weather gear and layers of sweaters and you could do about 2 hours at the helm before the cold got to you.
We had to steer her to take the seas on the quarter and keep her from being rolled. I read later that some of the seas were over 40-feet high but they looked a lot higher than that from were I was.
It's hard to describe just what it was like being pounded like that hour after hour. The worst thing was the noise. The shrieking of the wind in the rigging was enough to drive your crazy. I'm sure the winds got to hurricane force. Even worse, the storm parked itself off the Maryland coast for two days so the pounding went on and on and on.
We lost the storm jib during fourth or firth day, blown to shreds but even without sails we were going too fast and we were afraid of pitchpoling as we ran before the wind and waves. To slow ourselves down we towed a heaving hawser attached the bitts at our stern in a big loop. It slowed us to about 3 knots and the loop actually help prevent waves from breaking over the stern.
We had read all the heavy weather sailing books, in fact we had some of them aboard and I remember us pouring over them for hints. The best thing was not any instruction or hints we got from them but the simple fact that all of these people had survived some in boats smaller and not as strongly made as ours and some in worse conditions.
What we did -- at this distance in time its mostly a blur, remembered feelings and impressions rather than fact. Eventually the storm blew itself out. When I was able to take a sun sight I found we had been blow east of the stream and north of Bermuda. We headed back and finally made it to Hamilton. Altogether it took us about 11 days. We had the boat hauled and checked by a surveyor and aside from the sails everything was in good shape. We replaced the storm jib and had the mizzen restitched and by that time was had to head back. This time we got a detailed weather forecast.
In retrospect we owed our lives to the strength of our boat and to our little one-burner SeaSwing stove. Maelstrom took all the pounding the storm handed out and come through with no more damage than abraded paint. And without the hot meals that gimbaled stove made it possible to prepare we would not have had the strength to manage the boat.
Finally I gotta say that after that sail I became a lot more cautious – I figure I owe the ocean one and I want to put off payment as long as possible.
That was our BFS, for me after that experience nothing else qualifies at least nothing I'm likel;y to live through. We did go to Bermuda twice more on Maelstrom before we sold her and next year I'm going there in Enchantress