Originally Posted by tenuki
I bet that story gets longer and more interesting while sitting on a bar stool.
Cute, and here's that longer, more interesting story - hold on to your bar stool all you arm chair sailors and bluewater wantabees (originally posted on the Seamanship, heavy weather handling thread) and if you want pictures, go to the picture galleries and search "Paloma".
Three of us, all seasoned sailors, sailed out around the bottom of South Padre Island (just North of the Rio Grande and the Mexican border) Thursday in the perfect sailing weather - we were in shorts and polos shirts, on a broad reach in 15 knot SSE winds, beautiful 5-7 foot seas and 70 degree weather - the only thing missing was the Jimmy Buffett tapes.
Later in the day we got a weather report, small craft immediately make for port, there was a Northerly cold front (the one that dumped all the snow in mid-west mid-week)moving our way at 35 miles per hour with winds 50-60, gusting higher, seas quickly building to over 20 feet. Paloma is a not a small craft, but a second-generation Bristol built and equiped to go anywhere in any weather, and since the weather report was coming from Coast Guard South Padre Island, we thought we could head more Easterly and possibly get on the other side of the brunt of the storm. No such luck, around 6:30pm we got hit full force by the front, coming like a freight train. It slammed us down to port lights
in the water before we rounded up into the wind and could start the engine and start dropping sail
. On the initial hit, it tore the main and we lost a cotterpin on the port upper stay and we couldn't haul the main more than about 3/4 of the way down and as bad luck would have it, a jib
sheet got of control and went under the boat, tangling in the prop, stopping the engine. Now comes the decisions, not in the "game plan".
We made the only possible decision, to turn South and run bare poles before the storm. From the point we turned, about 35-40 miles NE of the Rio Grande, we screamed down wind in what we thought were 18- 20 foot following seas (later the Coast Guard told us they were closer to 30 feet) and winds 50-60 and gusting over 60 ( a Force 10 storm, precisely as promised by the Coast Guard) for 36 hours. The stern and bimini were plenty of sail
and it was a wild ride being pushed along by the seas, hitting over 10mph (from the GPS
) when sliding down the face of the seas. It was a strain to keep Paloma tracking so we couldn't stay on the helm more than an hour at a time and we knew if we turned beam to the wind, we would broach. When you went below for one-hour rest, you could only nap on the cabin sole - even that was comfortable after two hours in the cockpit. The winds were cold, but on the occasions that a wave broke into the cockpit, the water was warm - we couldn't figure why the warm Gulf waters didn't abate the storm sooner - actually we just kept wondering if we were going to end up in Vera Cruz.
When the winds finally abated and shifted back to SE, we were about 135 miles down and about 70 miles off the Mexican coastline - we had been blown 180 miles off our original rhumb line
, no engine and only a 110 working jib
. During the short calm of the wind shift, we untangled the line
around the prop, by starting the engine in neutral then putting the engine in reverse and pulling like crazy on the line
trying to unwind it - after two tries, thank goodness it worked, so we now had a working jib
and an engine (if we needed it) - not a bad combination to turn and run north in what ended up being a bit more comfortable 15-20 knot SE winds and 8-10 foot seas - still a chore to keep her on track with only a small jib
and making hull speed and better when shoved by the following seas, easily manageable.
The closest US landfall was South Padre Island about 135 miles NNW and by mid-day Sunday we were in sight of the buildings on the island.