Friday, June 25, 2010

sailing to seattle and sailing disasters

I just got in from some good sailing between Port Angeles and Seattle. One of my friends needed to get to Seattle for recording a demo, so it was a good excuse to get some sailing in. It was a good trip and I got to spend some good time with mates in Seattle and Bainbridge.

One of the more interesting moments of the trip was an incident that happened when we were tied to a buoy off Fort Warden. We had encountered light headwinds all the way from Port Angeles to Fort Warden and decided to spend the night there before continuing in the morning to Seattle. I tied the boat up, made sure she was secure and headed ashore to wander around Port Townsend for a while. We did a little busking in PT, my friend on the guitar and me on the violin and headed back to Fort Warden to check on the boat and have a campfire.

When I got back to where I was within sight of the boat I didn't like what I saw at all. The stern was way up out of the water and the bow sinking. My immediate reaction was that the boat was sinking and I raced to the dock and rowed to the boat in record speed. It would have been quite clear if we had hit a reef or submerged object on the way to Port Townsend, so I thought that perhaps one of the thru hull fittings had failed, a common cause of leaking for a boat.

Fortunately, the boat was not sinking at all, but was being pulled into the water by the buoy. Whoever set the buoys at Fort Warden apparently had never heard of tides, for the rode was several feet too short when the tide came in and the boat's bow was consequently pulled into the water. It was easily fixed, but the incident certainly got my adrenaline pumping for a while.

The following day I sailed to Bainbridge Island, and the rest of the trip passed with few other problems, except that I missed the last ferry back from Seattle and had to spend a very long and cold night wandering the streets until the first ferry back in the morning.

Many people have been asking my opinion on the Abby Sunderland disaster, and I will take the time to say a few words on the matter. Abby obviously made it half way around the world on her own, and became the youngest person to sail around Cape horn, quite an amazing feat. Her family had much experience with the ocean, and Abby had been dreaming of this voyage for several years.

That said, there were certain decisions made by Abby and her family that played no small part in her dismasting. Her choice of an open 40 was certainly part of it. While open class boats were designed for solo sailing in extreme conditions, they are almost always sailed by the top sailors of the day, experienced adventurers who have often logged numerous circumnavigations. Even when piloted by such experienced sailors, open class boats are prone to spectacular wipe-outs, often resulting in dismastings or worse. It was quite clear that when Abby's family selected a boat for her to claim the record, they sacrificed strength for speed.

Abby's decision to sail across the southern ocean in the middle of winter was clearly made for the sake of claiming the age record. The Vendee Globe sailors, the best in the world, are leaving the southern ocean in January, around the time Abby departed California. Sailing in the southern ocean in June is almost unheard of. Of course, you can't sail through the Indian Ocean without encountering a storm, but sailing in winter means more of them of a far more dangerous intensity.

The disaster has induced a very negative outlook on young adventurers, and it is quite likely that the sponsorship outlook for other young sailors will not be bright for some time. There is much more that could be said on the matter, but ultimately Abby is safe and that is what is important.

On a lighter note, I'm off in early July on another crossing from Hawaii to California with Brian Caldwell, this time on a Columbia 50. I am looking forward to a third crossing with him, the first person to circumnavigate under 21.




  1. Hey Ryan, long time, switched computers and not seeing your name on my bookmarks I forgot about you for a bit but wondered today what became of you and glad to see you are still blogging and sailing and playing the violin.

    Interesting comments about Abby. Many of us followers wondered about her boat choice from the beginning. They paid about the same for Wild Eyes as Don McIntyre did for Jessica's S&S 34 which lasted the voyage and which by all accounts was the superior boat for a solo circumnavigation. So it was too bad she wasn't able to finish but at least she's alive and able to move on to her next adventure. I wonder how much sail was up when the wave hit that broke her mast. Abby's not talking yet about the particulars and with details not being her strong suit we may never know what really happened on the fateful night of June 10th. Hopefully she'll open up if she writes a book.

    Hope you circumnavigation becomes a reality, but if it doesn't there's still the Northwest passage waiting for the first sailing traverse.

  2. I hope your project is still alive, Ryan.
    What you say about Abby seems quite right, and I agree with Bob. Though I think Wild Eyes was much more expensive? Anyway, sailing in austral winter in the southern ocean looks like a big mistake, which does not withdraw anything to Abby's personal bravery. It is only a stone is her parents wisdom's garden. I am happy she is safe, but I doubt we shall ever know what actually happened, as the Sunderland Inc. seems to be as open as a bank's safe, and should I say, as welcoming questions as a jail's door.
    Please keep on the good work and prepare your daring challenge. Youa re a good writer. I had the same awful surprise as you, some years ago, in the Morbihan Gulf. Quite surprising, huh?

  3. hello
    I agree, it was a long time without a post from you, and we are happy to see that all is well.
    Your comments on Abby are spot on.
    Unfortunately Abby liked her speed, and many people are convinced that it was one of the many reasons why the incident happened, wrong boat, wrong time, wrong decisions.
    I hope that this does not affect your hopes of sponsorship too much.Please be wise and take your time.

  4. Ryan,

    Thanks for the warning about the buoys at Fort Warden. Although I’ve never made use of them, I know exactly where they are. I’ll definitely remember your story if I ever tie up to them.

    Thanks for your comments regarding Abby. As you said, more than anything I’m glad that she’s on her way home safe and uninjured. You are so right about their choice of boats. It appears that the record that they wanted to set took priority over Abby’s safety. With the knowledge and experience that Abby’s family and team have, I’m extremely disappointed in many of the decisions that were made. For a grueling marathon like you’re planning, a blue water boat like Jessica’s S&S 34 or your Contessa 32 is so much more logical. It’s just amazing that they didn’t use the same type of logic when planning Abby’s attempt.

    Have a great time on your sail with Brian Caldwell. I imagine that he had some great conversations with Mike Perham, Jesse Martin, David Dicks, Jon Saunders and of course Jessica Watson at Jess’ homecoming so it should make your trip interesting to hear about his time in Sydney.

    Thanks for the report, Ryan. Keep us up to date.

    From Seattle, WA, USA

  5. Ryan, check this out!

  6. Hi Ryan,
    Very right on comments about the Abby RTW attempt. It never pays to push your agenda over the available weather window.It was obvious that they wanted to skunk Jess and take all the glory. That is the only reason they chose an open 40 for her attempt. It was too much boat for her, and she never learned how to sail it to it's potential. It is unfortunate that her debacle might interfere with sponsorship for young sailors. That is why it is important for the facts to come out about how Jess's and Abbys trips were as different as night and day from a training, preparation, and planning perspective.

    Sounds like you are getting some excellent experience sailing with Brian,and you are planning your quest in a very methodical way.

    Best of Luck with All Your Endevours!
    Richard in Maryland

  7. Thank you Anonymous for the Tommy D Cook Northwest passage solo sail link.

  8. I followed both Abby and Jessica and have to agree totally with you. Abby made so many poor decisions along the way -- yes, starting with the choice of boat, route, timing and then sail choices, etc. I wasn't rooting for her to fail, but it sure didn't seem like she was setting herself up for success. Seems like you've learned some lessons . . . or at least, had the reinforced. Good luck on your trip!