Nick Moloney gives this dramatic account of how he survived his ultimate storm on Skandia in the Vendee Globe
The last 12 hours have been bliss compared with the 30 before that…I’ve been quite hard on myself and have been trying to ask the question about how I put myself in that situation. Never really expected to be what it was. We ended up very quickly in conditions of 45 knots of wind, 3 reefs and staysail and actually thinking it was all good fun until it went wrong.
I’ve been in plenty of breeze before and I’ve done plenty of miles before, and I have never ever ever seen conditions like that. The seastate just got enormous and I run out of options, you usually have an escape route, you know take down another sail, point in a different direction. I was sailing along ok with just the staysail in 65 knots of wind, but the waves were breaking like the surf [on the beach]. I don’t exaggerate, but I would say crumbling white water was about 20 feet high, and I knew the situation was quite serious.
I actually made the phone calls to say goodbye to my family. I was adamant I was going to pay the price. For a four hour period I wondered how it would end. I totally thought that my number was up completely. After the second phone call to Mark, I didn’t have anything else I could do. Situation was breaking waves everywhere, it was all pure luck [where the waves would break]. If a wave took you out, it took you out. I was down below, and then bang the boat got hit by a huge wave. We went over, it happened so quickly. I definitely saw the bottom of the pool. Equipment bouncing off the ceiling, keyboards, lids of the computers, the cooker, everything flying across, everything smashing around like in an Agitator. Boat came back up and everything else flung around the place and on top of me. I was so shell-shocked. I had my drysuit on but only around my legs, I ran out on deck, the boat was on the other gybe heeling over at 60 degrees. I was on deck and I said to myself I’ve got to get off the deck otherwise I’m going to drown. I just held myself down below. I really thought one of these waves had got my name on it and there was nothing I could do. Crazy.
‘The Voyage for Madmen’ – never a truer title for a book. I’m going to need some really good coaching to get my confidence back and get back in the race.
How am I keeping going? I keep telling myself that I’ve sailed so many miles and I’ve never seen that, and that I shouldn’t see it again therefore. There is an emotional side of me that says I want out. I’ve taken a lot of risks [in my career] and the warning signs are out. But its been a long quest to do this race, so that is winning this morning. But I think I was given a stern warning, and I’ve had the amusing thought that if I keep going it is like was putting my fingers up to it…
Recovery phase? ‘Breeze moderated last night, but I needed to get some rest. I couldn’t eat ‘cos I was so worried (and I couldn’t find the food anyway!). So I just slept. Sun came up, and I needed to get going. Motion was quite violent still, so I decided to start with the inside. Papermaché everywhere. Been working on the job list. The list of damage is long but not severe. I had been concentrating so much on looking after the boat. I had been so wary of not to push and not to break anything unnecessarily, but in one go with one wave it [all that careful handling] all got destroyed.
I found the kettle under the fuel tank, and I found my glove inside the kettle! The spinnaker stacked at the bottom on the starboard side ended up somehow on the top of the port side. Everything was soaking wet. I had a massive low moment this morning when I found a box that was full of papermaché and I couldn’t tell what it had once been, but thought it was my Christmas presents! I just couldn’t deal with it, thought of nothing for Christmas. I carried on tidying up, and half an hour later I found the Christmas present box, I was ‘rapped’ [so happy]! I am going to try and eat something, but first I have to actually find the food box. I worked out that in fact the box of papermaché was in fact a box of notepads, books, paper towels…but not the loo roll fortunately, although I’m going to use the Indian Ocean charts and in particular the one of the Kerguelen Islands for that purpose anyway! There is still a lot of tidying up to do inside the boat, and I have to sort out the forward and aft compartments as well, not even started on those yet.
On deck the Argos beacon and aft camera were washed off the deck totally. At the top of the mast both wands are smashed. I’m trying to rig up an emergency wand on the stern of the boat, to get the wind instruments back, I’d really like to get the wind speed and direction back and get the pilot steering again on wind angle, then we can get the boat going better again.’
Meteo France confirmed data on yesterday’s conditions for SKANDIA as gusts to 66 knots (Force 11 gusting Force 12), constant 49 knots of wind and seas up to a massive 11 metres.