Paula Whitaker shares her harrowing story of an ill-fated storm within the Gulf of Mexico. Study what they did proper and what they want that they had carried out. I feel we will all study from their expertise and I thank Paula for being prepared to share.
A Rocky Begin
Typically, a crusing journey begins with an omen.
We spent two years of prepping for our first ocean voyage. We took ASA courses, spent two years crusing on weekends and holidays, and spent six months cruising the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Lastly, my husband, Captain Robert, and I felt able to cross the Gulf of Mexico from South Padre Island, Texas, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
We spent a lot time getting ready and agonized over the climate window we had been on the lookout for ever since arriving at South Padre a pair days after Thanksgiving. Utilizing each useful resource obtainable to us for the climate forecast, we lastly discovered a seven-day window to make our 750-mile passage throughout the Gulf.
We have been prepared, the boat was prepared. Checking three totally different climate fashions, the one factor displaying was a system creating behind us that we anticipated to be properly forward of.
The day was somewhat crisp however sunny. Popping out of our slip, we hit backside simply outdoors Sea Ranch Marina. The water ranges had been additional low for every week, and the channels listed here are slender and mismarked. Our six-foot draft induced us points throughout the south Texas space. e have been sick of continually coping with the depths.
We referred to as TowBoatUS and received the 4th tow off the underside since our arrival in South Padre, (and what we hoped was our final). However, ten minutes later it occurred once more, and Angel, the native tow driver (who by now I had on velocity dial) rotated and pulled us off once more. Fairly irritating, since we might see the Gulf of Mexico from the Marina the entire time.
Lastly, we have been within the Gulf, and free. We had by no means been so excited and full of anticipation.
Quickly, the sails have been up, the engine was off, and we have been prepared for the journey of a lifetime.
Was our rocky and three-hour late departure an omen of issues to return?
Dwelling our Dream on the Open Sea
The primary two days have been superb crusing. We obtained right into a groove with our watches, and though I’m a really nervous night time sailor, we have been doing advantageous, staying awake and alert throughout watches and truly sleeping some on the remaining durations. On a very good monitor and velocity, we anticipated to reach forward of schedule. We had used zero diesel at this level, and the winds have been robust and favorable.
On day three the winds shifted, and to be able to use them, we needed to take a extra southern tack. We dropped additional south, dropping a while within the course of however nonetheless on monitor. We must reduce east exhausting when the winds shifted once more, however we nonetheless felt like we have been doing okay.
It’s humorous how, if you find yourself in the midst of an ocean and faraway from all communication with civilization, whereas it’s a part of why you’re keen on crusing, additionally it is sort of scary. All of our climate info got here from on-line. All of our every part got here from on-line. With no sign, we had no technique of getting new info.
I attempted choosing up the climate on the VHF however was unable to get something. We felt the climate altering. We didn’t really feel the hotter climate we had been anticipating as we acquired nearer to Mexico. It was, the truth is, getting colder.
When Your Dream Turns into a Nightmare
Going into that night time the water turned tough, the winds picked up and have been gusting. With the sails reefed, we strapped in for a tough night time sail. We then spent two days and nights in tough, windy circumstances. Our autopilot failed and we took turns hand steering the boat.
We dropped the primary however it was too tough to get it into the duvet with out endangering ourselves. Even at this level, it wasn’t a cushty sail however we nonetheless had issues beneath management and every part on the boat was operational besides the autopilot.
However issues began to deteriorate as time went on. Throughout one shift change, I misplaced my footing and slammed into the opposite aspect of the cockpit, hitting my again exhausting towards the lazarette. I had the wind knocked out of me, however obtained proper up and continued taking good care of my duties. I used to be additionally seasick and had been vomiting on and off for about 18 hours.
Issues weren’t wanting too fantastic. Every thing on the boat had been just about tossed within the cabin and our residence was an entire mess. I felt extreme ache from my fall and Captain was exhausted. We have been nonetheless taking our shifts, however having little or no success in sleeping throughout our relaxation durations.
However the worst was but to return.
The subsequent night time, once I climbed over every thing and made my strategy to the top. Shockingly, I noticed blood in my urine. When the the lurching boat made me dizzy once more I threw up for concerning the millionth time. This was additionally clotted with blood.
I went to the companionway and tried to inform Captain what was occurring to me and he was actually preventing to maintain us on the right track. I used to be having to shout above the wind and I nonetheless don’t assume he heard me. Searching, I noticed an enormous wave forming behind him, and I yelled, Grasp On!!!!!
It broke over the strict, flooding the boat in an enormous whoosh!
We misplaced using a lot of the electronics, and we have been being tossed round like a matchstick. All Captain had now was the autopilot devices and the compass. The chart plotter solely confirmed our coordinates. Thank goodness I had put our passports, money, wallets, and so forth in a water-proof bag 2 days earlier, simply in case, regardless that I did not pack a correct ditch bag, which I remorse.
The captain stated to name Mayday. I went down under, and the radio was out. The whole electrical panel was dripping with water.
I have no idea why, perhaps I learn this in a ebook someplace, as I had learn many books and blogs getting ready for this crossing, however, I blew as arduous as I might on the electrical panel the place the radio change was. Water and a gooey jelly dripped out…and the radio got here again on!! I pushed the purple emergency button and referred to as Mayday.
You by no means, ever think about that you’ll truly have to name a Mayday. However we would have liked assist if we might discover any.
We weren’t even positive what anybody might do for us. However we knew the storm was getting worse, we had no approach of figuring out if there was any course we might go to get out of it, and each of us have been bodily in hassle. The ache in my again had reached the excruciating level, I used to be weak and dizzy, and Captain had been awake for over 24 hours in a battle with the ocean.
The primary reply was from a Chinese language tanker. He stated he might see us. He stated the seas have been too tough for him to aim a rescue, however he would name the Mexican Navy and/or US Coast Guard. What we discovered later was there’s a dividing line between what the Coast Guard and Mexican Navy covers. We have been within the Mexican Navy’s space. We have been round 300 miles from our unique vacation spot, and nonetheless additional south than we had meant to be to chop throughout to Isla Mujeres.
The Mexican Navy answered. Additionally they received us in sight after which stated the seas have been too tough to do something, however they might keep within the space. I used to be curled up within the fetal place in ache and hoping I had simply bruised my kidneys and never something worse.
Captain lastly got here down under and crawled within the tiny aft berth with me, saying we might simply experience it out as a result of he had nothing left to struggle with. We knew the Navy ship Vera Cruz was close by, which gave us some aid from nervousness and worry. We have been each moist, chilly, and exhausted. There was nothing dry left on the boat.
I had gone up into the v-berth and located some dry towels and laid them over the aft berth the place we have been resting, however they quickly absorbed water and have been simply as chilly and moist as every thing else. We simply laid there, in our life jackets and foul climate jackets wrapped up with one another and ready.
Ready Out The Storm
It was unbelievable that we truly fell asleep, however exhaustion will all the time ultimately take over. Once we woke, the solar was simply barely arising and we checked out one another in aid….it felt higher! Nonetheless very rolly, however undoubtedly not the driving storm we had been in for 2 days. Robert received up, on the brink of go above and assess the state of affairs.
However, it nonetheless received worse
At that second, we obtained hit by a HUGE wave, which knocked the boat virtually totally over!
Robert yelled, “Hold on!!!! The boat will proper itself!!!!”. One thing big and heavy hit me within the aspect of my head, in my proper ear, and a bottle of rum landed in my lap. (You possibly can’t make these things up.) These things had been securely stowed across the nook within the galley. It felt like a really moist curler coaster experience. The boat did proper itself, solely to get hit once more, and another time, altogether three large waves in a row.
Every thing within the inside of the boat was trashed, even the large heavy fridge door got here open, dumping the contents all over the place, I didn’t have a working telephone or digital camera at this level, so I’ve no footage, however it was pure chaos. Eggs had flown everywhere in the cabin, leaving a gooey mess on prime of all of the soaked and ruined inside gadgets.
After the waves have been previous, Robert went above whereas I seemed out from the companionway. The mainsail was ripped to shreds, the bimini and photo voltaic panels have been gone, together with the dinghy and the motor, the ice chests, the water jugs, and the chart plotter housing was laying within the flooring of the cockpit.
Robert tried to start out the engine. The batteries wouldn’t crank the starter, though it tried.
We have been sitting in a relaxed cove. The large waves had been the breakwater into the protected cove of what we might later study was Isla Desterrada, or “Abandoned Island” within the Alacranes.
Ready for Assist
We spent two days and nights anchored right here ready for assist. Then, the Navy ship Vera Cruz discovered us once more. They arrived in a smaller boat, and the crew was cheering, waving, and smiling as they got here across the reef.
Later, Commander Camargo would inform us that he was unsure they might discover the boat once more, or us alive.
After numerous forwards and backwards, and two separate Navy crew members making an attempt to start out the boat, we have been requested to go away the boat and be taken to Puerto Progreso. This was a particularly troublesome factor for us to do, however abroad with solely a rudimentary grasp of the language, with a non-working boat with in depth injury, we knew we would have liked assist.
By this level night time was falling once more, so a choice wanted to be made shortly. I’ll always remember the sensation of leaving her there and never understanding if we might ever see our boat once more. The rescue onto the massive Navy ship ready out in rougher water was harrowing, however once we have been lastly ensconced on the ship, they fed us and gave us clear dry bunks, and we fell asleep.
Upon arrival at Puerto Progreso, an immigration official awaited us to deal with our passport paperwork and an ambulance was there with a physician, who checked us over. We have been badly bruised throughout, however my again, and kidneys have been a lot better by that time they usually gave us a clear invoice of well being. A navy Lieutenant drove us to a lodge for the night time and promised to attempt to assist us retrieve the boat the subsequent morning. It was three:00 a.m. once we checked within the lodge, in a wierd nation, with no pals, a really primary information of the language, and with out our beloved boat.
It took 7 days to lastly get somebody to tow the boat into port from the island 65 miles away. We have been promised, each day, that it will be carried out “manana”. Within the meantime, we have been hauled twice by uniformed officers to the Port Captain and principally threatened with a $5000.00 USD tow invoice and fines by the Ecologica Police for any damages to the reef if the boat broke anchor.
Any ideas we had of preserving her have been erased once we realized she had been boarded and stripped of just about all the things that wasn’t nailed down, and even a number of issues that have been. The fees to us for the tow ended up being 35000 pesos, or $1850.00 US dollars, roughly. The towing was lastly carried out by a fishing boat.
I’m grateful to The Boat Galley for the articles about ditch luggage, storage, and provisioning.
Though my ditch bag didn’t have the whole lot in it it ought to have, our papers and cash have been protected and left the boat with us. I ought to have put all of the electronics in a water-proof bag as properly. We ruined two telephones, two Kindles, two tablets, and a laptop computer.
Even when we had been stranded for a month, we might have had ample dry, nonperishable meals and water.
We had all the security gear wanted for signaling different boats, and we used them; the perfect lifejackets cash might purchase, and each security merchandise the Coast Guard recommends. We acquired a voluntary Coast Guard inspection previous to leaving, and we filed a float plan as really helpful so my youngsters would have been calling the Coast Guard if we didn’t examine in by December 26th.
S.V. NeverLand did precisely what she was designed to do, and though we received knocked round and virtually turned the wrong way up, she got here via. We should always have outfitted her with jacklines as a result of then we might have safely gone out and secured the mainsail once we took it down.
We should always have gotten a storm drogue, or storm anchor, and we should always have practiced utilizing them. And we should always have studied extra about storm techniques.
Once we dropped off south of our deliberate route, considering we might make the time up when the wind modified, we truly dropped out of the climate zone I had been learning, and proper into El Norte.
I ought to have studied the climate patterns of the whole season and space extra completely, moderately than simply in search of a climate window of seven days for our actual route. (I in all probability would have talked us out of going in any respect, however we might nonetheless have our boat.) We should always have secured the dinghy to the deck with redundancy.
We should always have had a backup, waterproof, spare climate/VHF radio aboard, and a generator.
I consider we should always have accomplished a number of shorter crossings for apply, earlier than leaping into this longer and extra harmful one. We had been by way of a number of Gulf of Mexico storms in our travels, however this one made these seem like tub water. Nothing we had seen or been by way of ready us for the ferocity and period of this storm.
I nonetheless query whether or not we should always have left the boat once they requested us to. I assume I’ll second guess that call for a very long time. Nevertheless, we had had many talks about what we might do, if the boat turned severely broken. In any case, we lived in hurricane nation and sailed via hurricane season. You need to speak about it.
The boat was paid for and we had legal responsibility insurance coverage solely. Whereas we beloved it, we additionally have been ready to stroll away quite than dump hundreds extra into her for main repairs. The irony of the truth that we acquired nowhere close to a hurricane all season, however acquired within the soup nicely after the season was over, shouldn’t be misplaced on us.
We should always have referred to as the US consulate as quickly as we began having points with the native officers. I now know that they might have smoothed the best way with a couple of telephone calls and doubtless gotten the boat again to us the subsequent day. We additionally now know that for a really nominal quantity we might have paid somebody to interpret for us.
At present, we stay in Mexico. We miss our boat and we’re having to rewrite our story utterly for the subsequent yr and a half that we thought we might be utilizing to cruise the Caribbean. We really don’t but know what we’ll do from right here.
Our monetary loss is substantial. However we’re stronger- each individually, and as a pair. And we really feel very lucky to have survived it. We respect and savor all the things life is giving us proper now, from the odor of recent espresso brewing to our every day stroll on the seashore.
An area businessman bought the boat. They picked it up 15 minutes after they made the down cost, they usually offered us with a free place proper on the seashore to remain for 2 months as a part of the acquisition worth. All in all, the result might have been a lot worse.
I’m at present writing a memoir about our crusing story, in addition to a fiction novel on Patreon, which will probably be launched subsequent week. Clearly, this text a particularly abbreviated model of all the things that occurred. Each expertise like this helps us study and develop as sailors and sure, as human beings. I’ve all the time hated the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” however I’ll be damned if it isn’t a hundred percent true.
Will we sail once more? Don’t rule it out.
Need extra? Take a look at Paula’s weblog, Looking for St Someplace. She has additionally revealed a memoir on Patreon. Learn the primary chapter without spending a dime or buy your complete ebook.
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