Sail enough mileS, and even­tu­ally bad Stuff catcheS up with you.

Toscana Toscana,

Yachts International - - Sternlines -

i seem to be stalked by force 10 blows. ac­cord­ing to the beau­fort Scale, force 10 in­di­cates wind speeds of 48 to 55 knots and a sea state de­scribed as hav­ing very high waves (29 to 41 feet) with over­hang­ing crests. the sea sur­face is white with densely blown foam, in­duc­ing heavy rolling and af­fect­ing vis­i­bil­ity. force 10 is sec­ond only to force 11 (vi­o­lent storm) and force 12 (hur­ri­cane). i have sailed in mean force 10 weather sev­eral times.

in the in­fa­mous 1979 fast­net Race, i was crew aboard eric Swen­son’s Swan 47, as she made her way through a dark night and a force 10 out to the fast­net Rock light­house off the coast of south­ern ire­land. as the wind built from strong to ex­treme to out­ra­geous, it be­came harder to steer the boat, so we de­cided it was time to shorten sail al­most to min­i­mum by ty­ing in the third main­sail reef. Some­one had to climb up and onto the boom to straighten things out, and that some­one was me. the strong hands of my ship­mates se­cured my legs, and ev­ery ounce of adrenalin kept me fo­cused on the job, not the mounds of churn­ing white waves a dozen feet be­low me. with the reef tied in, i took the helm and we got back to sail­ing to fast­net Rock.

later, an im­mense wave stopped us so sud­denly that the for­ward hatch sprang open to the sea. my watch mates rushed for­ward to shut it. other waves tossed wads of cold salt wa­ter over the deck, rip­ping off my eye­glasses and fill­ing the cock­pit to my knees. and then our nav­i­ga­tor, Johnny coote, a por­ta­ble ra­dio in his hand, an­nounced, “men are dy­ing out here.” boats were sink­ing, sailors were lost.

no won­der peo­ple who have read my book about the storm, “fast­net, force 10,” ask, “were you fright­ened?”

there is al­ways some con­cern in ex­treme con­di­tions, which is a good thing be­cause it stim­u­lates you to stay alert and en­gaged, and to at­tend to the sea­man­ship lessons you have been taught. yet out­right fear par­a­lyzes. it helped that we were in a good boat with an ex­pe­ri­enced crew and cap­tain. we were well-rested and well-fed, we had our sea legs (sea­sick­ness was be­hind us) and we donned good safety equip­ment.

Still, on that bleak au­gust night in 1979, there was one strik­ing mo­ment of ter­ror in “vis­i­bil­ity af­fected” con­di­tions. when a green run­ning light ap­peared ahead, we knew that a boat re­turn­ing from the rock on a re­cip­ro­cal course was headed right at us. but when the light van­ished, we were left to the mercy of forces be­yond our skill and care. hap­pily, the light even­tu­ally reap­peared safely off to our side. even to­day there are times when i can’t look at a green light with­out feel­ing a chill.

we found fast­net Rock and rounded it, and had a safe sail in dy­ing winds to the race fin­ish, where we learned that five boats in the race had sunk, and 15 sailors were dead or miss­ing.

for some of us on Toscana, the fast­net gale was not our first force 10 ex­pe­ri­ence. Seven years ear­lier, on the other side of the at­lantic, i and other crew mem­bers had en­coun­tered heavy weather while rac­ing in the 1972 new­port ber­muda Race. i was then on the Swan 55 Dyna, owned by an­other fine sea­man, chesa­peake bay sailor clay­ton ew­ing. af­ter an omi­nous first day (we nearly col­lided with a whale), a vi­o­lent east­erly gale sprang up and gusted straight into the teeth of gulf Stream ed­dies, stir­ring up such high, steep waves that a sailor in an­other boat com­pared steer­ing to “driv­ing a truck into a stone wall three times a minute for two days.”

was i wet? yes. tired? that, too. and ner­vous in a healthy way. Some­one on an­other boat wrote in his log, “the watch­word for to­day is sur­vival.”

but i didn’t fear for Dyna in that force 10. wa­ter was ev­ery­where on deck and in the cock­pit, yet the boat worked her way through the seas. ew­ing and our crew were ca­pa­ble and alert. as the wind came up to force 10, we clipped on our safety har­nesses, moved cau­tiously around the boat, steered with care, short­ened sail with deep reefs and small jibs, and slogged on. in due course, the nav­i­ga­tor ad­vised us to keep a look­out for the beams of ber­muda’s two light­houses ahead.

the most se­vere chal­lenge in a race or cruise to ber­muda comes at the end, near a great co­ral reef. in the very rough 1956 edi­tion of the new­port ber­muda Race, the big 73-foot Bolero skirted the

reef so closely that a nearby navy ship sig­naled, “You are stand­ing into dan­ger.” Dyna, in 1972, felt her way around the edge of the reef in “vis­i­bil­ity af­fected” con­di­tions, gaug­ing depths by the color of the wa­ter and the size and shape of waves—big green seas in deep wa­ter, small trans­par­ent waves near shoals—un­til a sharp-eyed Aus­tralian fish­er­man in the crew spot­ted a nav­i­ga­tion buoy and we crossed the fin­ish line off St. David’s Head.

Al­though all seemed at ease on Dyna as we made our way up the long chan­nel to the city of Hamil­ton, on shore I felt a fear that, per­haps, I had oth­er­wise de­nied. Rows of silent women and men stood help­lessly star­ing out to sea, each search­ing for a loved one’s boat. There was dam­age in this race, and some in­juries, but no losses of boats or sailors.

I en­coun­tered Force 10 again in 2012, as crew de­liv­er­ing a boat back to North Amer­ica af­ter the New­port Ber­muda Race. A fe­ro­cious weather sys­tem stirred up two days of very hard go­ing. One boat was aban­doned, and an­other suf­fered a se­ri­ous in­jury to a sailor. The boat I was on, 42-foot Hinck­ley Zest, sailed through heavy rain and strong squalls for a day and a night, and then was smashed un­ex­pect­edly by a 60-knot gust that, with a big bang, blew the forestay and a jib right off the boat.

Our crew’s ini­tial re­sponse was stunned si­lence. Skip­per-owner Brian Swiggett im­me­di­ately turned the boat down­wind. As we jogged along slowly and com­fort­ably, we re­al­ized the dam­age to the boat was local and iso­lated, and per­haps the same for the crew, as well. We patched up the bro­ken bits, and we calmed our nerves.

At least one of us felt re­minded that the sea is al­ways there, al­ways po­tent, and never to be sen­ti­men­tal­ized or taken for granted. race for first ocean race, the ed Ber­muda nick­nam is new­port s, the am­a­teur sailor of and recog­niti on smaller yachts Patch” in to the onion stream the gulf the “thrash stirred up by was race wild weather the both the her­itage. ral this agri­cultu ’s th run­ning Ber­muda 50 and its will have more in 1906 and 17. For founded d for june sched­ule start is year. the bermu­dar ion: in­for­mat

Ex­hausted Fast­net Race crews await Royal Navy he­li­copter res­cue from their dis­abled boats. op­po­site right: Fast­net Rock astern, Eric Swen­son steers Toscana down a great wave. above and op­po­site left:

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