| 10:00 AM local time, Thursday, Sept. 27 (0000 Sept. 27 UTC) Temp. 81,
Humidity 86%, Cloud Cover 100%. Still caged at the Royal Papua Yacht
Club, Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea.
The other day Ros of Arafura Maid was racing with some people on
10-meter boat and they needed extra crew so the Captain, bored a bit by
our enforced stay here, jumped at the chance. I got on board, met the
rest of the crew, and we motored out to the start. The skipper, Ron, is
a pro who has done the Whitbread (Volvo) and skippered a boat in the
fateful Sydney-Hobart race. As it turned out, we were lucky to have
someone that good.
It was blowing in the low twenties but Ron decided to go with the full
main, as did many other boats, and their number three. The conditions
were not unlike racing in the slot in San Francisco Bay, except, of
course, it was warm. Our start wasn't spectacular but we hung in with
the crowd. The race was perhaps twenty miles, with maybe six roundings.
After a leg or two the wind came up a bit, to 30 and above, and boats
started having problems and blowing out sails. Our headsail (they call
them "headies" here) went bye-bye, so we hoisted the number four.
Spinnakers started to shred. As a result of all the mayhem, we caught
the leaders. We were feeling pretty good on the last downwind leg,
hitting 11 knots surfing, and were just about ready to hoist the
headsail and douse the spinnaker at the leeward mark when things
suddenly went wrong.
The afterguy (they call it a "brace") let go and the pole went forward,
banging against the headstay. Ron immediately called for the sail to be
doused, but the halyard got jammed in the clutch and wouldn't let go. In
thirty-plus knots, with four feet of chop, we had to get it down so the
skipper yelled "cut" and the halyard was cut away. The sail fell into
the water and the bowman and a couple of crew grabbed the sheet to try
to pull it in as we sailed by. But the frayed end of the halyard had
stuck in the mast somewhere and hadn't let completely go. A puff came
along, the boat heeled suddenly to windward, and the halyard came
taught, pulled up the kite, and it filled, propelling the bowman, who
had the sheet around his arm, right past the shrouds (which he was very
lucky not to hit) and shooting him into the water like a cannonball.
During this whole mess the boat jibed and a woman was hit in the back
with the boom.
OK, you're the skipper. It's blowing like snot, there's heavy chop,
you've got the spinnaker flailing and maybe fifty feet to leeward of the
boat, there's someone hurt and a man in the water, who'd somehow managed
to grab something and was holding on. About two hundred yards further to
leeward is a reef. Less than a minute ago, everything was great. Nobody
freaked, but a lot of nasty images ran through your correspondent's
Ron hove to and stopped the boat with the spinnaker flying madly and
the sheet tailing behind it, way up there in the sky like, one might
say, a kite. (Tradewinds students note: The figure eight method wasn't
called for here because we already had the victim next to the boat.
Heaving to, so he could hang on and not be dragged away because of boat
speed, was appropriate.) The halyard was now fully extended but still
jammed in the mast so the sail was nearly a hundred feet from the boat
and 45 feet in the air. The bowman was holding on to something for dear
life, and in this case "for dear life" was not an overstatement. He was
not wearing a life vest. He was beside the boat and was a big guy, and
fortunately for him a strong one, so I yelled to him to try to work his
way back to the transom, which was open. We could never have gotten him
over the side. I was very conscious, as I'm sure was the skipper, that
we were in the meantime making quite a bit of leeway towards the reef.
Another crewman and I wrestled him back on board over the transom. He
had a big gash in his leg which it turned out was actually not a cut but
had been abraded away by rope. We got him below and lying down, and he
yelled to the skipper, "We're still racing!" This meant he didn't want
us to withdraw from the race on his account.
We managed somehow to retrieve the spinnaker, which was important
because we couldn't sail upwind to get home with it flying like that. We
got the headsail up, but the top three feet of the luff ripped out.
Luckily, the tear stopped there because with an old main, we needed that
jib to get us home. We finished the race but weren't up there in the
money anymore. Ron kept the crew focused the entire time and was very
quick to make decisions and tell us clearly what he needed done. As a
result, what could have been really awful was reduced to a couple of
relatively minor injuries and a lost sheet. Relatively minor, but the
bowman was treated by a doctor (Dave, Ros' husband) as soon as we got
the boat tied up and will require stitches and some recovery time. Dave
said he had gone into shock, but he was seen later in the bar hoisting
something a bit less dangerous than a kite.
Next report from this loocation:
Faith is the Place