How one couple’s yacht was wrecked in the last few metres of a transatlantic crossing

These shocking photos (above and below) document one of the saddest sailing incidents I’ve ever witnessed.

Retired couple Krzysztof and Agniezka Zadarnowski, cruising in their Tartan 37 from Bermuda to the Azores, had sailed the last miles of the transatlantic passage, handed their sails and were motoring the last few hundred metres into port when an escalating sequence of events led to the destruction of their yacht.

The pair, originally from Poland, had lived in the US for 27 years and left their home in California in 2008, sailing to the Panama Canal and the Caribbean before leaving Bermuda in May to reach Europe in the 37ft Sulima.

They arrived in Horta, in the Azores, where I was reporting last week on the ARC Europe Rally, just as the fiercest part of a cold front was blowing through. Gusts to 47 knots were punching through the anchorage, raising spray and a short chop even in the lee of the main harbour wall.

As Sulima motored in a sheet apparently blew off the deck. It wrapped round the propeller and stopped the engine.

What happened next, as she ended up on the lee breakwater, was watched powerlessly by scores of other sailors in the marina and harbour, packed at this time of the summer.

First on the scene were the captain and two crew of the 114ft schooner Aschanti. The actions of Kalle Ebner and crew Philip Schiffer and Ina Junes, who had caught the single panic-stricken ‘Mayday’ on the VHF put out by the skipper’s wife, probably saved the couple. Ebner told me that Krzysztof Zadarnowski believed that he and his wife would have to jump in the water to avoid being trapped as the boat broke up.

Aschanti’s three crew undoubtedly risked their lives to save the couple. They managed to help by towing the yacht with their tender, despite waves that threatened to swamp the smaller boat, swept the cowling off the outboard engine and stalled it.

Eventually a harbour tug arrived, whose crew also took considerable risks in manoeuvring to get the 30m tow line aboard.

The photos below show the rudder and keel damage to Sulima, as well as the huge cracks in her bow area, amidships and further aft from pounding up on and dock on the breakwater’s concrete blocks. Kalle Ebner also told me that inside the yacht the impacts had torn the lockers and furniture from the hull side and it was all floating around in the saloon.

Although I’m no expert, the extent of the damage makes me think the yacht is beyond reasonable economic repair.

I was not able to track down the Zadarnowskis, but one who talked to them afterwards reported that the yacht was covered only by third party liability insurance.

We’ll have a full report with details of the incident and the hair-raising rescue, which has some interesting lessons about securing a towline (and some scary illustrations of the fragility of deck fittings etc) in our August issue.


Sulima in the hoists, showing how the rudder blade has been broken off

A large crack in the bow above and below the waterline


The glassfibre trailing edge of the keel has been battered away and water pours out of large fissures in the hull

 The photo above shows the rope still wrapped firmly round the propeller