While Morning Glory is far South from us, Arthur and I have been keeping a close eye on hurricane formation and heavy weather that may come North to Beaufort, NC where she is. This last hurricane Tomas especially caught our attention because it delayed the start of Caribbean 1500 Rally. A boat from our yacht club, s/v Ilene, was participating this year and we were very interested in how the rally would handle the forecasted weather. Behind the hurricane was a VERY nasty front with forecasts of high winds and large swells. Mixing that with a Gulf Stream crossing sounded like a potential ass beating or worse. How many stories have we read about races gone wrong because caution and and forecasts were not taken seriously. There was a few days window between fronts and the race took advantage of it. It looked like boats sailing to the Caribbean should make it in a day or two before the front, and the boats sailing straight to the Bahamas would JUST miss getting pounded by high winds and heavy swells. The first thing that I thought was what if someone has mechanical problems and lags behind. Then not only do they have to deal with a broken rudder or mainsail traveler, but they would have to deal with bad weather... Unfortunately this seems to have happened and the cost was not only a boat but the life of a 46 year old woman.
I have been trying to piece what happened but there is little news. Rule 62 started out heading for the Caribbean but then diverted to the Bahamas. The other boats heading to the Bahamas had already arrived safely because of their direct route. According to various cruisers nets, Rule 62 was having trouble with their auto pilot and had the exhausting job of hand steering. Other cruisers reported hearing them try to trouble shoot their problem over the SSB radio. I also heard that two of the four crew members were seasick. They decided to divert to the Bahamas this is where no one knows for sure what happened. By this time the front had hit the Bahamas and the ocean was raging along the Atlantic side. It looks as if they tried to make it through the North Bar channel by Lynyard Cay Saturday night, November, 13 when their boat was swamped. Two members were washed overboard and recovered. They then deployed their life raft and tried to row to shore when another wave overturned the raft. Three of the members made it to shore but Laura Zekoll is still missing a presumed dead. I just shake my head in amazement at the poor judgement that lead to this tragic development. How did this happen? Why was this mistake made?
Sailing in the Bahamas is one most beautiful places, but also one of the most technical. Many lives have been lost on the dangerous reefs over the centuries. There are some simple rules everyone should follow there. Number one is to never enter a cut or harbor at night. These cuts are dangerous and every factor needs to be considered. And NEVER attempt one during an ocean rage. What led them to make this decision? Was it exhaustion and sickness. Was it lack of seamanship? How did they not know the conditions? When you're traveling with the waves you often can't see them breaking until you see them breaking behind you, but the forecast said they were there -and very wicked. Why did the rally not advise them?
The death of this woman is haunting me. I think about the night we arrived in the Bahamas. We had three days of rough weather and decided to cut our trip a little shorter by going to the Abacos rather than farther to San Salvador. We arrived just before sunset and knew we shouldn't attempt entering March Harbor. So I spent that night sailing back and forth fighting currents and waves. We had made a big mistake of throwing our watches off. The last day was nice and instead of taking turns sleeping every 4 hours we enjoyed so time together fishing and cooking our fish. That made for a very rough night. I extended my shift as long as I could so Arthur would be rested enough to navigate through the reefs to safety. Having 4 able seaman (8 and 10 year olds don't count) would have made all the difference in the world. But then again, what if they got very seasick and I had to take care of them and the kids. That would probably be worse than just the two of us. I would like to discuss that with other offshore cruising sailors. So if anyone is reading this, give me your thoughs