The Knock Down

The morning started as any other.  I was up for the 6am to 12pm watch, and we were on half hourly stints on the deck.  I was due to do mother duty starting at 9am.  As there were more and more people not able to take part in the watch system, I suggested that if Dora could do my mother (she has hurt her back) I would do her shifts.  That seemed like a good idea, as the less people on watch, the longer you have to be up on the deck in the cold.  It was all agreed, so I stayed on the watch system.

As there were few people, we were doing an hour on deck, and a half an hour downstairs.  Thirty minutes in the pit, next to the vang (vang: a rope or tackle extended from the boom of a fore-and-aft mainsail to a deck fitting) and thirty minutes on the main sheet, which is just in front of both of the helming stations.  I had my hour between 9am and 10am, and then took the opportunity to sneak down to the nav station to start my blog.  No point in wasting good time typing when you can sleep – and boy did I need the sleep this time.  I did about twenty minutes, and then Wendo needed it, so went back and started my next hours rotation on deck.

The following is my recollection of what happened, and of others that have filled in the gaps since.

The first thirty minutes in the pit went without incident.  The seas were high, and the winds were gusting up to about eighty knots, but nothing that we hadn’t experienced before.  I then moved to the main sheet, Cheryl went downstairs and Guy came up into the pit.  Marc was at the helm.  I was well tucked down into the corner of the starboard helming cage and the traveller sitting on the floor.  We are always advised to keep as low as possible when the winds are high, so that there is less distance to fall.  Good advice normally, although I don’t think there would have been anything I could have done to lessen the blow.

I felt a flood of water come over the starboard side of the boat, and bowed my head so that it would hopefully hit my hood and then bounce off rather than attempting to go down my neck. Then something else happened – at the time I had not a clue.  I felt myself being catapulted forward.  It was like being in a washing machine, only I kept banging into things.  I really didn’t know where I was or what was happening.  But I did know that I was under water, and I needed to take a breath pretty soon.  But there was water everywhere, and I had no idea which way was up.  Something seemed to be stopping me from moving.

Just as I felt as though my lungs would hold out no longer, I managed to move my head, and my nose was free of the water.

What a beautiful breath that was.

My mouth was still in the water, and I could then see where I was. The water then started to subside.  Marc was at the helm and was doing an amazing job at keeping the boat on track. I didn’t realise, but he too had been knocked off his feet, but had managed to get back up again to try and regain control. I then had a chance to look around to see where I was.  I was stretched to the limit on my tether, down at the port helming station.  It must have been the cage that I hit several times whilst I was in the “washing machine”.  Only the port helming station wasn’t where it should have been – it was on top of me.  Marc said he keeps having visions of seeing me trapped underneath with blood pouring from my face – he is really struggling coming to terms with whole incident.  It has shaken him badly.

As it has Guy.  The reef 3 line was cross winched across the boat just by the vang, and he had one hand on the vang when it happened, and one hand on the reef line.  He grabbed hold of the reef line with his other hand, and held on with all his might.  He said he looked down, and all he could see was his feet dangling in mid air above the water, with only his hands on the reef line stopping him from falling into the water.  I think the boat was fully on its side.

He looked toward the back of the boat, and saw one of the life rafts floating away.

The best scenario we have been able to come up with as to what happened is this:-

There are big rollers that we had been surfing down for several weeks.  As with a surf boarder, you pick up the wave, and it takes you down fairly quickly but in a straight line.  We were almost on the top of a roller, when a smaller, but still significantly large, wave hit us from a different direction. The wave that originally came over the side.  This knocked the boat off course, and perhaps stunted its speed, so that instead of gliding down the big roller wave, it actually knocked us over- for the duration of the wave, which was quite a long time.

It was one of those occasions when everyone knew where they were when it happened – for obvious reasons!  A bit like everyone knew where they were when the planes went into the Twin Towers. Wendo was asleep in her bunk, in her sleeping bag.  She was knocked out of her bunk, and ended up in the nav station seat.  In it – not on it.  The top had come off, and she was in the seat, still in her sleeping bag.  She hit her head quite badly, and has a two inch deep cut on the top of it.

Pops was in his bunk, and had the remaining days food bags land on top of him.  Val was in her bunk, Craig was just walking past and ended up on top of her – then popped back out and landed on Rowena on the other side.  The whole boat was a complete mess.  Carnage everywhere.  James was in the kitchen, and just sat down and wedged himself in. He could see the wave from where he was standing.  David was in the top coffin bunk, and although he didn’t pop out, did hit his head on the ceiling.

Back to me.  I was under the port helming cage, with my life jacket fully inflated.  I think this may have saved me from more serious injury, as I was pinned down but with a life jacket full of air between me and the floor.  My tether was stretched to its utmost limit – but held steadfast. Heather came over and held my hand – I thought that was very nice of her.  I wasn’t in a panic – just trying to process everything that was going on. Then Heather got blurrier and blurrier – I know now that my head and eye had swelled up to quite enormous proportions, and had shut the eye completely.

I heard people come over, and saw James try to move the helming cage with his foot, but it wouldn’t budge.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I thought I would just lay there and see what happened.  Funny how you think in those situations. The cage was lifted off me – apparently by an alpine butterfly knot in a rope attached to a winch.  Then I had to get from the back of the boat to the companionway.  James initially let some of the air out of my life jacket so that I could move a little easier, but attached his tether to me so that I didn’t go anywhere without him.  He is a rock climber, so I had complete trust in him.  I actually had complete trust in everyone.  Craig moved around to the back of me, so that my feet could get some grip on him to help me move.  I did comment afterwards that he missed his chance of throwing me overboard, and he said the only reason he went round the back was to throw me off, but I was attached to James!

Bizarrely, my right glove had disappeared, and later on I discovered that my right earring had gone as well.  Those gloves were so hard to get on and off – the water must have had some force to get that off my hand.  My legs were extremely sore, as was my left arm.  All three of them were having difficulty moving.  But it looked as if the only way I was going to get downstairs was by crawling, so crawl I did.  Very slowly, and very painfully.  Wendo was up on deck with a stormhoek buff around her head – with blood dripping down her face.  She said that was the nearest thing she could find to put on, as she had heard that someone was trapped. She did say that she called for help when she was in the toy box (that’s what we call the nav station seat) but as everyone was dealing with their own issues she had to get out on her own.  She said it was really hard getting out whilst still in her sleeping bag – I said that I knew the feeling (remember the lee cloth incident?).

I managed to get down the steps with help from Pops and a few of the others, and they started the triage.  Pops wanted to cut my foulies off – I didn’t think that was a good idea, as I was sure Clipper wouldn’t give me another set, so insisted they went over my head.  It wasn’t too much bother.  My hat and my balaclava came off – not sure how the earring got out of there – but the rest of my clothes were saturated.  My head injury was their first priority, so I had a pad put over my eye, and then a cold compress on to try and stem the swelling.  There was blood coming out of my nose, but it didn’t look as if I had broken that – just probably gave it a whack of some description.

My legs and right arm were deemed to probably be badly bruised only, so were left alone.  I was moved to a bunk by the galley, so it was easier for me to be treated with anything that I needed.  That is hard enough to get into when I am fully fit, let alone with only one good eye and one good arm!  But with a little help from my friends, I got there, and in my sleeping bag.  A little earlier than I had been planning, and rather a lot wetter.  But all the underwear and base layers are merino wool, so they did dry within a few hours with my body heat.  I know I couldn’t wait to get in that sleeping bag, but really didn’t want to get in it in those conditions.

Whilst all this was happening, there was lots going on on deck.  The wave had completely taken out the port steering, and had sheered the steering rod off that connected the two wheels.  It had also jolted the shaft off the starboard wheel, so for a while there we had no steering.  Wendo and Craig got in the lazerette to sort out the steering.  There was diesel all over the place, where one of the jerry cans had lost its fuel.  It got all over their clothes, so had to be covered with washing up liquid and water to scrub it all off.  At one point, Craig was on all fours with Matt scrubbing his bottom with a washing up brush, as he had sat in it.

Where is that media camera when you need it??

The damage toll is quite extensive.  David described it as feeling like a world war two bomber pilot limping home with his plane having been shot up.  We certainly are limping home.  But there are no major injuries, and we are still moving.

We will get to Seattle!