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Catalina Gale Part V: Caught by the Wind!

We left Catalina at 8:35 am.

We had calm seas for the first half mile from Two Harbors (Catalina). Bigger swells came and then waves pick up to three to five feet. Winds were gusting 20 - 30 knots while we were behind Catalina island. This was about two or three hours. During this time I remember looking at the waves with awe as they sloped upward, every fifth or sixth wave breaking white. Braddock Jr. was out in the cockpit for a long time talking with me. Then Max came out for a while and took a picture of the scene. To our left was Catalina. I could see an anchorage as far off as maybe a mile as well as a sheer cliff and a giant jutting rock that protruded out into the sea. The island looked so green, soft and peaceful, it was quite a contrast to the large angry breakers confronting us wave upon wave. I watched the shore, gazing my attention upon it at least every five minutes just watching to see if we were passing the anchorage and the giant jutting rock. The anchorage, with its sailboats nestled in near the shore, was now well behind us. But the large jutting rock just seemed to be laughing at us as it didn't seem like we were ever going to pass it! Brad was concerned about our course since we had been 10 degrees off now for an hour or so. I kept thinking of ideas of how to get our boat to go closer into the wind or a way to tack and use the angle of the wind to our advantage. As it was, the wind seemed to be coming in the exact direction we were wanting to go and it made it very hard on us. However, after about an hour and a half either the wind changed a bit, or we did and we were able to steer close hauled as near to the wind as we could. This also helped keep our reefed mainsail from catching more pressure in it's sail than it could handle, because the wind was easily doing 20 - 30 MPH for sure by this time. I didn't get seasick for about an hour or two - but I didn't realize it was because I was sitting in the same position and hadn't moved around any. Brad went up on deck after he had taken an hours rest down below, and took down the jib - which was causing me a lot of stress due to the tremendous stress on it from the wind. With the jib down and the mainsail reefed we were doing so much better. But for Brad all the crazy tossing of the boat on the waves and him having his eyes off the waves made him get sick. I noticed his beard looked like it had salt water on it, but then realized he had thrown up over the bow. Brad then tried to make the jib into a storm jib by knotting down most of it. But he felt unsuccessful and came back into the cockpit. Later I examined the knots he had used to tie and lash the jib and was quite amazed. I've been practicing knots for a long time but couldn't make out his masterful knots! I told him later how amazed I was by them. And him having done all these knots with the boat tossing everywhere too! Ok, so then Brad came back to the cockpit.

Some hours had passed by now and we had come far north of the protection of Catalina in our journey at 1-4 knotts (depending on how we caught the waves). The waves were easily ten feet big if not bigger. We were passing through the shipping lanes now and every once in a while a huge ship would cross in front of us. I was watching the angle of the ships as I saw them on the horizon. Then I noticed a tug boat at an awkward angle to our own pulling a huge ship with large cables a quarter mile behind it. I must have not seen it as it was at an odd angle and the waves periodically hid it from view. When the angle did not change I began to get really concerned. I knew it was on a collision course with us and unless one of us changed course it would not be good. Brad encouraged me to come about and head back until the ship had passed. With the waves so big it would be a real challenge. But I carefully judged the next wave and after it had passed under us I had a minute in the trough to come about. So I did. The boat changed direction and I steered up the safest part of the wave. But as we came up over the wave the wind came so hard down on us it wouldn't let the main sail or the boom flip to the other side. Brad shared with me later that we didn't have enough power to get fully across the wind. So now the tug boat and the ship were on a direct collision course...

Captain Brad continues:

"The seas were so big that the sun was able to penetrate through them at an angle usually unwarranted for this part of the Pacific. The result was that the waves began to take on a slight hue of green and white. These are known as the infamous green water waves that legends and disaster are frequently made of. I was confident that things could not get any worst, when Albie began to yell something in a loud voice trying not to be drowned out by the gale force wind. Even though I was literally right next to him, all I could make out were the words “Ship” and then something about “run us over”. Instead of asking him to yell louder, all I had to do is look up in the direction he was pointing. Barreling down on us from the North was a 500 ton Foster tug with a massive steel barge in tow. We just could not imagine anyone else being caught out here in this nasty storm. What was even more unbelievable was the fact that the vessel was unmistakably what in nautical terminology is known as CBDR or constant bearing, diminishing range. In laymen’s terminology, on a collision course with us! Unfortunately, not only were we crossing within the freighter zone for commercial traffic, but even if we weren’t, a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver has supremacy even over a sailboat according to the International rules of the road, otherwise known as COLREGS. In other words, time to get out of the way, and quickly! On Albie's command we initiated the procedures to tack. There was only one problem. The boat was not responding to the tiller. NOOOOOO! Not now! But refuse it did. The steel ship was getting a lot closer by now. I’m sure the Master of the tug had tried to hail us on channel 16 VHF, but we decided to leave it off so the batteries would not be depleted in case of an emergency. I was actually glad we didn’t turn the transceiver on, because odds are we probably would have heard a lot of obscenities from the Tug Boat Captain by now. We were barely able to maintain steerageway as we clawed our way towards home, but did not have enough forward momentum to bring her about (to tack). We could have adjusted our sail and our course to accelerate, and then attempt to tack again, but there was no longer time to even think about that option. Things were getting very close now. Unfortunately, ships don’t have antilock disk braking systems, like a Ferrari convertible. In fact sometimes it may take a ship of that size over a mile to come to a stop. With a big barge behind there was not much recourse for the tugboat but to just run us over, and literally keep going. As the feeling of despair became more eminent, we again looked towards his vessel. He was trying to take evasive action by dramatically changing course so as to go behind us. “I hope he has enough room” I was thinking. Our only other option was to jibe, but I was certain that an attempt to do so would rent our mainsail to shreds, or cause serious damage to the standing rigging, which was already hanging on by a thread. --- After this close call, I suggested that Abie take a break, so that in case the worst was not over, he could regain some of his strength. As for myself, I was feeling chipper enough, but knew that I was not going to last forever under these circumstances. It was such a relief to know that I had Albie to relieve me when I couldn’t take it anymore. I am quite sure it would have been far more terrifying to be alone and even further out to sea like many single handers that have sailed around the globe alone.

Check Next week for the continuation of the story!

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This post first appeared on Sailing With Albie!, please read the originial post: here

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Catalina Gale Part V: Caught by the Wind!


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