TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GALE
Given the profound effect the knockdown has had on the Figure 8 Project, I’ve thought hard over the intervening months about what I could have done differently. Here are some of my conclusions: 1. Boatspeed: Early in the gale, I put Mo under storm jib alone. This sail is a mere 175ft2, and though I noted how it slowed our progress, I was eager for a conservative sailplan that I could wear throughout the blow. Much storm-management literature is about keeping boatspeed down so as to prevent loss of control and prevent pitch-polling in heavy seas. However, in this case, I think lack of sail may have meant Mo didn’t have the “reserve speed” necessary to move through the troughs without stalling. Without steerage in the troughs, the boat would
naturally begin to round up as she climbed the next peak. Given the big seas and the big break, the result was disastrous. 2. Reading the right indicators: “It’s not the wind we worry about, it’s the seas” is an adage I failed to heed in two ways. First, when I aimed Mo for an area of the low where mean winds were forecast to be 35 knots, I failed to consider the wave height and intensity. The low had been raging for several days and would kick out a swell not necessarily defined by the wind we were going to get. Second, as we were bashed around, I continued to base my decisions on the wind velocities. “We’ve seen so much worse,” I thought to myself, so I let the boat sail on. I should have deployed the drogue as soon as I realized I didn’t have a workable approach to the seas (i.e. after the first knock). This would have stopped the boat with her stern to the worst of it and may have prevented the damaging knockdowns. 3. Emergency gear: Storm windows were on the pre-departure to-do list. But the list was very, very long, and I ultimately set out under out under the Golden Gate Bridge without them. I am Mo’s fourth owner, and each owner has taken the boat into harm’s way. She has been three times around Cape Horn, twice to the Antarctic peninsula and twice through the Northwest Passage. No previous owner has broken a window. I therefore assumed that neither would I. A sound enough rationale—just wrong. 4. Emergency gear maintenance: I had lavished untold care upon the bridle of the Jordan Series Drogue. The drogue came with the boat and had seen plenty of sea time, but the main drogue line and parachutes all looked clean and ready for action. That said, the cover on the bridle was worn, and the eye splices at each end were rock hard and their metal eyes, rusty. I therefore patched the worn cover and replaced the splices and thought it a job well done. As you can imagine, when the splice on the main drogue line failed, I was surprised. In hindsight, though, these splices were as old as those on the bridle, and I should have exercised as much caution with them.