Mayday, Mayday

At about 7am Captain Bill made the call: Mayday, Mayday.

We were in trouble. The sun had come up but I was kind of wishing it hadn’t because we could actually see what was coming at us. I seriously don’t know how we made it through the night.

We had made it just half our predicted travel distance and were going around in circles about 25 nautical miles south from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The seas were just so rough, we had no capacity to control the boat in them. One second we would be heading south on our intended route and then all of a sudden we would be pushed around to the north. If we had of had a sail up we would have broken the mast for sure. Just crazy;¬†Wind gusts of 54 knots, seas 27ft with 8ft wind wave on top, squalls 50-70ft. That’s some serious weather.

But our biggest concern was perhaps the fact we were also being pushed towards land. The chance of running aground was incredibly high. With most of the instruments out Capt Bill had to make a call.

He started by asking the US Coast Guard where the closest harbours were so we could shelter and assess the damage, but because of the ferocity of the storm, the closest ones were rendered too dangerous for us to enter.

The Coast Guard suggested we head back to Port Angeles but given the state of the boat and ourselves there was no way we could have faced another 30-plus hours in the water by turning back into the storm. Ports further south that would have been safe for us to enter were more than 80 nautical miles away and given the conditions would take at least another 24 hours to get to too.

So we were kind of stuck. Bill was reluctant to ask them to come and rescue us because he was of the understanding they would only winch us out by helicopter, meaning he would lose his boat. I suggested he ask them what the options were.

They said that it was possible to tow us out, which we all felt extremely good about. I was hoping they would tow us south just to keep us moving in the right direction but they said the only option was to bring us back north to Neah Bay, an Indian Reservation just inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

With the Coast Guard deployed, they asked that we turn back north to cut the distance between their boat and ours. We couldn’t. The waves were so strong we had no rudder control when it came to turning north. We could go south and west ok but the waves kept moving us east towards the rocks.

The Coast Guard gave us an ETA of 2-3 hours. It was a long wait. While we took solace in the fact they were on their way, we came so perilously close to capsizing that I began thinking about how long I could last in the arctic waters should we have to abandon ship.

If anything the conditions were worse than last night. So all we could do was circle – head west and then wait to be dragged back east again. Because we couldn’t head north, the Coast Guard began discussions about dispatching a helicopter to retrieve us but Bill was having none of that. At one point he yelled “I’m just gona head out to sea,” and threw down the radio receiver. I guess I can’t blame him. That boat is his home. You wouldn’t give up your own without a fight….

The best sight in the world after bobbing around in the ocean for 36 hours - The US Coast Guard

When the Coast Guard finally arrived we were grateful for a slight lull in the seas so they could attached a rope to Reality. I was expecting them to also transfer the majority of us onto their vessel (by now we were all pretty keen to get off Reality) but they didn’t they just started to tow. Heartbreaking really, when they said we had at least a six hour journey ahead of us to go the 24 nautical miles to Neah Bay.

Take a look at our rescue in action:

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The power of their boat made it incredibly difficult for us to stay upright. Think a tin can dangling behind a car when someone gets married. We were bouncing all over the place. Multiple times we had to tell them to slow down as we took masses of water over the bow and in through the port side door which wasn’t sealed properly.

The place was chaos. The floor on every level was so strewn with stuff, it looked like the boat had been ransacked. Isaac and I, who were both still feeling pretty rough, sought shelter in Bills room at the back of the boat because we really couldn’t keep our balance anyways. His bed lays port to starboard and was surprisingly a lot better for taking bumps, although when the boat was lurching 60 degrees to the right or left, which it did regularly, we were still flung from end to end.

After taking on a serious amount of water at one point, I turned to Isaac and had a conversation I’ve never had before: “I know this is slightly melodramatic but if I don’t make it out of this for some reason….” I gave him a list of instructions for my parents.

It wasn’t so much that I was scared. In fact I was really calm though the whole thing. It was just that with time to kill you think of all the possibilities. Ie What happens if we capsize and the tool box on the floor clunks me in the head and knocks me unconscious and I can’t get out in time? Those things plays on your mind. I thought it best to say something. Just in case.

Capt Bill, who prides himself on being a storm sailor, said it was the worst conditions he has ever sailed in.

We couldn’t have been more grateful to the Coast Guard when they got us safely back to Neah Bay on dusk.

Here are some of our reflections after the fact:

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The Coast Guard preparing to tow us

The final stretch into Neah Bay

The more calm waters of Neah Bay

  1. Duncan Wade says:

    Hey Christie.

    Terrible night. Great story.

    Felt very sorry for you all throwing up, and somewhat impressed that you all kept pretty positive.

  2. Juz says:

    Woah I was exhausted just reading what happened!
    Thank God for the Coast Guard hey………

  3. diane says:

    It is nice to have people appreciate the coasties and what they do, my son was involved in this rescue, I am so very proud of him.

  4. diane says:

    I like to hear people thanking the Coasties for what they do. Glad you are all safe.
    The boatsmans mom who towed you to safety.