. 26 October, 2007 7:08:00 AM AEST
Loki's sailing master Cameron Miles' first hand account of their Rolex Middle Sea Race
Report from Loki's sailing master Cameron Miles on Loki's Rolex Middle Sea Race
Well, as you may have heard the Rolex Middle Sea Race did not end as we had all expected for Loki at 5.15pm on Sunday evening our time.
We have lost the boat on the northern shore of the Sicilian coastline, she is lying on a sandy beach with some rocks surrounding her. The keel snapped off about three feet down from the top, no doubt after hitting the beach. When we left her Tuesday morning her stern was lying on a large rock chewing a massive hole in the transom.
A true nightmare and a very sad sight.
We were leading the race by an estimated 1.5 hrs on corrected time approaching Golfo di Castellamare with 24 odd miles to go to the NW corner of Sicily before we could bare away and run down down wind. The wind was around 30+ kts but we were expecting more by the time we reached the corner and were pretty keen to get there before dark. We were comfortable with out sail plan of a number 6 jib and two reefs. We were prepared for the next gear change which was most likely a trysail before dark.
Shortly before 17.20 on Sunday the steering on the starboard side went slack and we immediately went for the port wheel thinking a strop had broken but the port wheel was also useless at which time we looked behind to see our rudder floating in our wake.
With no rudder all we could do was drop sails and plan where we may end up given our rate of drift. Options were very limited. With all ports on a lee shore it was always going to be difficult even in a yacht with a rudder. Drougues were deployed in an effort to steer Loki however in the sea way with some experimentation, we were limited to directly down wind with a storm jib up (quickly shortening our run way), or across the wind forward or reverse with no sails with a drift to leeward at around two to three knots.
We were in close proximity to Atalanta an IMS 70' for most of the race and they did a great job standing by when we sent out a pan pan soon after the rudder went.
Option A was to get some type of tow and in the meantime try and guide the yacht away from the mountainous headlands either side of the Golfo di Castellamare. Had we have stayed near the headlands that would only give us an estimated 3hrs of time before we would need to "step ashore" so to speak.
For some time we thought Atalanta were going to attempt a tow, however they also had their own issues it was later revealed. Communication between the two yachts was extremely difficult. We were also under the impression that a Tug had been deployed from Palermo however after about 1.5 hrs we found out the Tug had turned back due to sea conditions. A 50' Sicilian Coast Guard vessel was deployed from the small port of Terrasini due to the combined communication of the Royal Malta Yacht Club and Atalanta, however the Coast Guard we found out do not tow anyone at any time. It became increasingly obvious that a tow was not going to happen in the hours to come.
Option B was becoming the next best option, We were heading toward the best possible Marina on the shore we could find, at the point in the bay which would allow us the maximum time to be rescued if required, or even attempt to guide the yacht into the harbour behind the break wall entrance. A rudder made from a bunk and pipe cots was also attempted but this proved futile yet a good morale booster at the time. We decided due to he worsening conditions and with time running out with the yacht approaching the shore the chances of making the yacht get inside a large breakwater in a port we had never seen was going to put too many lives at risk. The next day upon visiting the Marina our decision had proven to be rather wise.
Option C was unfortunately now a reality. We had to say yes to a helicopter extraction with the yacht starting to get close to shore.
Every aspect of the crews conduct during the race and indeed the rescue was totally commendable. Their training for this very situation made the rescue a lot easier for both the Loki crew and the helicopter crew.
Our crew was: Darren Senogles, Richard Hall, Ed Christian, James Christian, David Sampson, Graham Purcell, Wayne Benson, John Kemp, Billy Sykes, Marcus Ashley Jones, Adam Barnes, Peter Antill, Chris Links, Michael Bellingham, Cameron Miles, and our owner Stephen Ainsworth.
Upon arrival at the airport near Palermo we were transfered to a Hotel and organised rooms and hot showers.
In the morning the crew were given some clothes as all we had was what we were wearing, wet weather gear which was wet. It was a cold and very, very windy morning. By the time I had finished being interviewed by the coast guard and returned to the Hotel all the good clothing (shiny suits 25 years old) had disappeared, apart from one item, s stylish black track suit from the New Orleans Saints.
Amongst the horror of what we had been through in true Aussie spirit, we made the most of the situation and had some fun with the awesome outfits we had been given by the Hotel. With the whole team walking off into town the locals soon realised something abnormal was happening in their sleepy village. All the Italian TV reports later that night confirmed our plight.
We do have many photos of Loki lying on a beach with her keel broken, her mast broken, an hole in her transom, but like any funeral I certainly prefer to remember Loki as she has always been - a beautiful yacht.
The race was going so well with our little Loki leading at the start and finally getting rolled by the 90' Rambler half way between the start line and the exit to the harbour. We led the 75' Titan out of Valetta Harbour and worked up the coast of Malta for about four miles before turning right and heading toward the SE corner of Sicily. Our plan was to head toward the predicted right hand shift as we approach Italy and by late afternoon/evening we were in right hand air and all was going to plan. Up through the straights of Messina the breeze was starting to go funky with thunderstorms and lightening all around but only 5- 15 knots of wind. By the time we exited the straights and headed toward the Volcano of Stromboli we were running in 30 knots of wind with a code 5 spinnaker on.
After gybing around Storable on the westward course over the top of Sicily the breeze was building from the south as it was being sucked in toward the building Mistral from the north west.
By mid afternoon the breeze went quite light. It gradually built from the north and over the next couple of hours we were reach along having a ball at about 135 true wind angle with one reefs and a four. The breeze built and we then had two reefs and a six which is basically a storm jib with shape.
We were all looking forward to our spinach and fetta cannelloni for dinner but we never come a chance to savour it due to the rudder.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is truly a magnificent race. Our crew all said in our debrief back in Malta that it was one of the best races they had ever done and were very keen to return with a new, faster, better boat. Will there be a rising from the ashes?
Whenever I see a boat washed up on shore, getting hammered by surf, it reminds me of a wilderbeast, struggling for it's life with legs caught in mud, while a pride of lions methodically gnaw at it's hide, slowly bringing it to a painful death.
No socks for me after April 1, unless I have to dress up . . . which is very rare for me. Nothing dorkier than a sock-less guy in a suit and tie. I will actually get to be sockless at my daughter's beach wedding next month. The wedding party's wearing flip-flops and so, I suppose the Dad will conform.
That video brought a tear to my eye, very sad, like seeing a magnificent wild animal struggle for it's life . . . don't you see the obvious metaphor there?