Somira Sao describes how her family face losing their home after their Open 40 Anasazi Girl is dismasted close to Cape Horn on an eastbound circumnavigation
Out of nowhere, a huge wave hit the boat, just at the right angle, pushing us on our side. “James!” I yelled, feeling the boat start to heel.
At the sound of my voice, James reached his hand for the pilot remote. But before he could do anything, we accelerated to port, heeling beyond the point of correction.
I saw James’s body lift into the air in slow motion. I was slammed inboard and braced my body to make sure I would not crush the kids. Raivo must have nudged his way to the opening of the berth in his sleep because as the boat continued heeling to port, one moment I felt his body next to mine, then immediately felt him slide out of the berth.
I reached out and just missed grabbing his ankle, watching in horror as his body flew out of my reach, along the floor all the way to port, making contact with the ballast tank while James was still airborne. Water rushed along the portlight. As the boat continued to roll past 100°, both Raivo and James hit the cabin top. Next I saw the ocean churning on the other side of the Lexan windows at the top of the boat. I heard Tormentina yell, “Mom!” from her berth.
After that a deafening silence. Time seemed to freeze and I felt this warm tingling feeling inside, expecting water to burst into the boat or for us to roll 360°, but the boat came back up the same way she had gone. James and Raivo both dropped down to the floor.
Raivo cried out: “Dad!” and James helped him up, asking him if he was OK. He angrily replied: “Yes, but I bumped my head and my back!” I looked at Pearl, who was awake now. “You alright?” I asked her. She couldn’t talk yet, but she gave me a nod.
James brought Raivo to me and he crawled back in the berth. I held him tightly. We asked Tormentina if she was sure she was OK. “Yes, but I got wet,” she said.
James checked on her then looked up through the windows. “Oh no,” he said. “We lost the rig, Somira.”
James put on his action suit quietly, meticulously checking his safety gear as normal. “I need to go out and assess the situation,” he said. I held onto Pearl, who was awake and breast-feeding, and kissed her tiny hand. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We’re going figure out a way to get into port.” I hoped my promises would be fulfilled.
James came back down and sat at the navstation, looking completely defeated. “It’s a mess out there. There are two headsails streaming in the water. The rig is broken at the top above the hounds and about a metre above the deck. The boom is still attached and I’ve got that secured so it’s not banging around.” Waves slammed against us and we heard the scrape of carbon as the mast shifted over the cabin.
“Can we save the rig?” I asked.
“I’m going to try. I need to do something right away. With all this stuff floating in the water, we can’t risk damaging the rudders or puncturing a hole in the hull.”
Waiting down below
He looked at the chart, marking our position. We were approximately 320 miles from Cook Bay. “If we can get ourselves to Bahia Cook, then we can anchor there until the seas lay down. Then maybe we can make a jury rig to get ourselves into Puerto Williams.”
The hours that followed were the most difficult moments of waiting I have ever experienced. The seas were terrible, and we listened to the sound of James as he worked above. I knew I had to be down below to take care of the kids, but I felt helpless.
At one point, a wave hit us hard and the mast moved dramatically, scraping loudly across the deck. James gave a loud sharp yell from above. “Are you OK?!” I yelled.
No answer. “James!” Tormentina and I yelled again a few times. “Are you OK?” Silence. I got out of the berth and opened the door to yell out. Finally he answered: “I’m OK.”
It turned out a wave had hit and the mast turned 90° and James was pinned against the stanchion. He hurt his back, but managed to get rid of the top part of the mast.
James went on working to cut the mast away. We could hear him grunting in effort as he worked. I was sure he was running purely on adrenalin because he had had hardly any sleep, food, or water. Once it was safe for us to move around the cabin, I helped Tormentina into dry clothes, use the toilet and eat some food. She was now in my berth, warm and dry, watching a movie with Pearl. Raivo was asleep.
After about six hours, James came below, took off his gloves, harness and jacket. He sat down at the navigation station and looked absolutely and completely shattered.
The mast was now gone, at the bottom of the deep blue. So was one headsail, a storm jib, some lines and some hardware. Part of the main that was saved was lying on the side deck.
We did not speak. I offered James some hot soup and water. He ate a little bit, but it was obvious his appetite was completely gone. He lay across the navigation seat, and closed his eyes in complete exhaustion.
While he slept, I stepped out into the cockpit for the first time since we were knocked down. The sun was shining, the horizon was filled with blue skies and a few gentle-looking white clouds. Seas were still uncomfortable, but nothing like the monster waves of before. It was as if the storm had never happened, apart from the stump of the mast with part of the main flung over it. The boat was sailing on course at three-four knots with the autopilot and no rig.