Overboard in a Pacific hurricane
Jim Dobie skippered the amateur crew of Uniquely Singapore in Force 12 winds during the Clipper Round the World Race 2009-10
We started the leg from Qingdao, China in February, bound for San Francisco 5,500 miles away. We soon settled into conditions we knew well: spinnaker running in 30 knots, averaging about 12 knots with surfs over 25. The crew was loving it and we soon broke into the top three. Then we received weather files forecasting storm force and hurricane strength winds. A huge low-pressure system was barrelling towards us.
I briefed the crew and organised a storm watch system designed to reduce time on deck, as conditions were going to be brutal. Meals were prepared and everything was stowed. I suspect that most of the crew thought it meant more surfing, but I knew we were in for one hell of a ride.
Building swells and high cirrus clouds heralded the approaching storm. A building breeze can take you by surprise going downwind, as was the case when I came up on deck to find 35 knots, gusting 40, with our spinnaker up and out of control. Surfing at 30 knots sounds like fun but we were on a 68ft, 30-tonne yacht with 18 amateur crew and myself the only professional on board. This was now becoming dangerous.
A spinnaker drop in heavy winds can be stressful. One mistake could spell disaster: a wrapped halyard, a guy getting caught, a helming error. Trying to keep the yacht very deep downwind in a significant swell
Uniquely Singapore and her crew, seen here in happier times, were elated to arrive in San Francisco
With hurricane force winds, 30-knot surfs, crew overboard and a missing hatch, this leg could have worked out very differently