[OPE-L:6608] [OPE-L:69] Shipwrecked!

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 21 Aug 1998 18:26:34 -0400 (EDT)

I'm back in New York City again ... about 9 days earlier than I
anticipated. (No, I haven't read my e-mail yet).

I had a *GREAT* summer ... until Wednesday morning.

I spent the summer sailing out of Newport, Rhode Island and living on
my 27' sailboat, "Bon Copain". Except for 2 stormy Mondays and this last
rainy Monday, I sailed *every* other day. I sailed throughout
Narragansett Bay and elsewhere (including Block Island, the Elizabeth
Islands, and Martha's Vinyard) ... all singlehanded. It was everything
(and more) that I had hoped for.

On Tuesday, I sailed in a fresh (15-20 knot) southwesterly wind to
Cuttyhunk Island (the westernmost island in the Elizabeth Island chain). I
anchored outside the breakwater in 14' and got myself ready for a stormy
. The forecast was for the winds to veer North - Northeast and
increase in intensity to 25 knots. It was a very stormy night indeed with
gusts above 35 knots and waves that came into the anchorage that made the
yacht pitch violently. Under these circumstances, it was hard really
falling to sleep. So every 30 minutes or so I would get out of my berth
and check our position (by looking out the ports to take a range on other
nearby moored vessels and a light) and the fathometer (which indicates the
water depth). It wasn't a pleasant night, but we appeared to be safe.

Then at about 0215, there was a loud bang on the side of the hull. It
sounded *very* bad so I jumped out of my berth, threw on a few clothes,
and went up the companionway. What I saw would put a chill in the heart of
any mariner! We were broadside to the stone breakwater smashing against
the rocks with each roll!

The anchor must have dragged and, within seconds, we were on the rocks. I
thought about starting the engine, but it was already too late. The cabin
was beginning to flood (indicating that she had been holed and was
taking on water fast). I would have liked to go down below to gather some
of my possessions (including my heart medication), but seconds mattered.
I.e. I felt confident that given the proximity of the deck to the rocks I
could climb off of the boat and save myself if I timed it right and acted
quickly; if I went below for a few seconds the boat might shift and I
might find myself having to swim for the mussel and barnacle-encrusted
rocks (leaving a vessel for the rocks is a very risky, and often
life-threatening, proposition). Luckily, I got onto the rocks with hardly
a scratch. From there, I sent out a "Mayday" message with a portable VHF
radio. The US Coast Guard answered my distress call and a private vessel
(which had been out answering the distress calls from two other vessels in
nearby Quick's Hole and Hadley Harbor) picked me up a few minutes later.

I was lucky to get out of the boat in one piece. From the rescue boat, I
could see that my boat was already descending below the waves. I was taken
to the Captain's home and given some dry clothes and then put up for the
night in the Town Hall -- which, I was told, was the traditional place to
take shipwrecked sailors to.

Of course, I couldn't sleep. At first light, I walked back to the
breakwater ... hoping that my boat and personal gear could be salvaged.
It was a pitiful sight. She was holed in several places, her decks were
awash, she was flooded, and her mast was leaning at a 60 degree angle. She
was wrecked!

I went back later that day ... three more times. I wasn't able to salvage
much of anything.

In addition to being my boat, she was also my home for the summer. When
she went down, so did most of my clothes, personal items, gear, etc. The
boat was insured, but I will still take a large financial loss for the
uninsured items. And, of course, I also lot my boat ... which had given me
such pleasure and pride.

It was a very wrenching experience (it still hurts a lot), but I'm still
alive! And I'll buy another boat and be back sailing next summer! I won't
be defeated.

It seems weird being back in NYC. During the summer I didn't have a
computer, telephone, television, refrigeration or basically any of the
modern conveniences. I was also basically inaccessible. It was great but I
look forward to hearing again from my many friends -- of which there are a
lot on this list.

Life goes on ....

A shipwrecked mariner