Been There, Done ThaT, LoveD IT
As an experienced offshore sailor and racer, your story “Force 10” [May/June] took me back. The Force 10 blow I remember best was one that hit us in the southern Indian Ocean while delivering the 73-foot, then state-of-the-art maxi to Sydney for the 1968 Hobart Race. It was impossible to know exactly how strong the wind was because we had been dismasted 2,000 miles out of Cape Town, losing all instrumentation, but all the descriptive elements of Beaufort Scale Force 10 were met or exceeded.
Our 97-foot main mast had become a 30-foot stump, which we had laboriously jury-rigged using the spinnaker pole as a gaff and many hours of handsewing the remains of a torn and tattered mainsail into a rig capable of driving us at an acceptable speed in decent winds. In the process we had technically converted the boat from a ketch to a schooner rig—not a classically beautiful schooner by any means, but a rig that would perform well downwind.
On a tight schedule to arrive in Sydney in time to re-rig, we headed south into the Southern Ocean with all haste, hoping to find strong westerly winds. We did! The big one hit us after several days of increasing winds and growing swells. It felt like the ocean had made a conscious decision to assert its power as it began to deliver an unending succession of improbably enormous swells high enough to shield us from the wind at the bottom of each one, but exposing us to the wind’s full fury at the top. It was a roller coaster ride far beyond the scope of any Disney attraction. It was scary. It was awesome. It was beautiful. All three, at the same time.
We were a crew of seven experienced young sailors who thought we knew what we were doing, and an older professional captain who really did. Sven inverted his ever-present pipe to prevent it from getting flooded and issued one order: “Keep looking back and keep the f***g transom at right angles to the swell.” We did, and for three days, watch-on, watch-off, enjoyed the sleigh ride of a lifetime.