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

Yachting Monthly - - LEARNING CURVE -

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

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