high priority indeed

High Priority 2 update from the Chicago-Mac race: The crew is currently on the road (with the boat trailer) to Grandhaven Marina where a recovery vessel is waiting. We were removed from the Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay Sunday afternoon via a small boat out of the Frankford CG base. A vehicle was waiting to transport us to the Skippers cottage in Pellston MI. The plan today is to find the boat, flip her back over, get the sails down, pump the water out and tow her back to the ramp. Hopefully she has minimal damage .
What happened
We were aware of the approaching frontal system. The plan was to get north on the lake as fast as we could prior to the forecasted northerly wind shift which would result in upwind sailing. Throughout the day the winds were veering (rotating clockwise) we were plotting and sailing the clockwise rotation. As the evening progressed the wind and waves continued to increase. We were on port tack with main sail, jib and spinnaker, flying along at 14-16 knots. At 11:45 pm I checked our location and the weather radar via gps. The rest of the crew were on the port pontoon (rail) David holding the flashlight on the spinnaker , Jeramy on the tiller (with extension) and Chris for high side weight. We were in good wind right were we wanted to be, the winds throughout the evening had gradually veered at a steady rate, we were approaching the backside of the frontal system, the heavy weather and lightening were still over the land to the west and not a potential threat. I returned to the low side (starboard after beam) my spinnaker trimming station. Due to the increasing wind speed and now 16 knots of boat speed I was on mental alert to ease sails if need be.
At 12pm without warning we were hit with a 40 knot gust from the east. This gust blew the spinnaker, main and jib on to starboard tack. Jeramy reacted quickly and turned up in to the new breeze and I released the spinnaker sheet, jumped in the cockpit released the main and jib sail. Jeramy had so much pressure on the tiller trying to keep the boat under control the wooden portion of the tiller separated from the aluminum connection point to the rudder. We were now abeam the new wind and up right. Everyone calmly made there way to the cockpit were we discussed what actions to take next.
The wind was still a steady 30 knots with higher gusts. The problems for us the spinnaker was blown out and wrapped around the forestay. The tiller was usable via the short aluminum arm that was still attached to the rudder. The plan was for me to go to the low side of the boat retrieve the port side spinnaker sheet. Dave was to release the spinnaker halyard ( the line that hoists the sail) Jeramy was back on the tiller stub and Chris was standing by in the cockpit to assist with the spinnaker sheet as soon as I retrieved it. Chris asked if I wanted a tether ( a 6 foot nylon strap that attaches me to the boat) I did not want to go below to put the tether on or be connected to the boat in the event we capsized so my response was no.
At the time I felt the best action was to first apply a small amount of trim to the main (my thoughts were to get the boat sailing again and under control) retrieve the port side jib sheet as it was violently flying around in a whipping action, so I went out on the port side net retrieved the line and secured it back on the winch with light trim on the jib. Next I released the spintac (line connecting the bottom of the spinnakers leading edge of the sail to the bowsprit. The released tac line under a heavy load , it flew threw the rope clutch and the sail connection at the tac point was now free. Next retrieve the spinnaker sheet (line) hand it to Chris to put on a winch.
Ok done, now Dave released the spinnaker rope clutch Chris and I attempted to bring in the sail. The wind was still howling, waves and spray splashing over the boat. Im out on the net laying on my back pulling on the spinnaker sheet as Chris was pulling the sheet now around the winch. Jeramy was on the tiller stub attempting to keep the boat under control and sailing. The next thing I saw and heard was David saying we’re going over. I tried to get to my feet as we went over and ended up on my back in the water port side stern. Under water bracing for potential impact from above. Ok all good , swim to the surface. Jeramy was on the surface already calling our names. I was the fist to respond followed by Chris but no David.
A few seconds of concern and the reality he may be under the boat sunk in. Another anxious call from Chris and David emerged from under the boat! A little bloody from a small head and hand laceration but alive. We all climb up on nets between hulls. Ok all good we’re all safe! Cris an I climb up and straddle the center hull while David and Jeremy stand on the support beams, one on the port side one on starboard. Prior to casting off from the Chicago docks we had a crew safety briefing .
The flares, and survival tools/kit are accessible via a compartment either inside the hull in the event a person is trapped in the air bubble inside or in our case sitting on the overturned hull. Jeramy being on the port side beam (access port location) unscrews the port hole and retrieves the flares, handheld VHF radio and 2 handheld GPS. He hands me a parachute flare , I pull the firing pin , nothing! Ok let’s re-read the instructions. Jeramy then ignites a successful launch. The flare flies high lighting up the night sky. ( we later learned the Coast Guard saw our flare 25 miles away, but thought it might be the the guy that fell overboard during the same wind shift that overturned us).
We still had not made radio contact with anyone but we’re broadcasting Mayday Mayday. Jeramy hands me another parachute flare, I open and fire the second. Another successful launch. We are waiting for a radio response to out broadcasts , nothing for 30 minutes. David continues to announce our position and situation. “Mayday Mayday S/V High Priority 2, 90 miles north of Chicago, center of the lake, we’ve capsized and are in need of assistance”. Waiting. We decided to light a hand held flare, unscrew the cap pull the igniter string , fire! (Side note after the handheld flare burns out its glowing red hot, it’s warmth when you’re wet and cold). Finally the sailboat Dark Horse responds to our emergency broadcasts. All crew are reported ok and Dark Horse is sailing to our location. DH acting as go between contacts CG cutter Biscayne Bay. (Our handheld VHF does not have the range that a mast head antenna has).
A couple other sailboats arrive at our location. All offering assistance but the sea state was not favorable for crew transfer (4-5 ft waves and high winds). We are now about an hour in since the capsize. Crew moral was as good as can be expected. Everyone was calm, not complaining, we were all focused on our situation. I light another hand held flare to brighten our location and give an overview as to our situation and means of rescue.
We hear a helicopter inbound to our location, coast guard doing a position and observation run. We are informed the Cutter Biscayne Bay is in route to our location and will arrive in approximately 20 minutes . Jeremy and David are still standing of the aft beam when a higher than normal wave tosses the boat around. We all grab for each other and pull them up on the center hull , now all four of us are straddling the center hull. With the add weight we all shimmy towards the bow to help balance the boat. Rescue is on the way we just have to try and stay warm and wait. Right about 2 hours after the capsize we see a small coast guard zodiac in bound to our location. The zodiac skipper makes several attempts approaching the over turned trimaran but do to the sea state are unsuccessful. We are directing him to run the boat up aft between the starboard pontoon and main hull. A couple attempts and we transfer Jeramy, another approach attempt David is on. I’m next then Chris. All good we are know 7 on a small zodiac pounding back to the 104 ft cutter.
Spray and waves are washing over us as we power towards the cutter, but all is good. No injuries, no lost crew, life is good. Next challenge ; transferring from the zodiac to the 104 ft cutter now towering above us. The sea state is anything but cooperative . Zodiac skipper and cutter Captain are in radio contact discussing us coming along side. The cutter drops a connection point and accelerates as we power up along side. Zodiac bow attachment made, rope ladder lowered. Zodiac skipper is calling for overhead light. David is first up the swaying rope ladder, five rungs and he’s on deck . Jeramy next followed by myself then Chris.
All good as we step onboard we’re whisked in to the ships galley were blankets, dry cloths and hot coffee are waiting. Since climbing up on the capsized boat I’d been replaying the incident over and over in my head. I’d been trying to do what I had hoped would save the boat , but it didn’t . I was very disappoint . I kept thinking should I have done this should I have done that. From the time we took the initial gust until we capsized was a couple minutes. I was trying to act quickly and felt under the current conditions the best thing to do was try and get what was left of the spinnaker down. Maybe I should have gone forward and called for the jib to be released and lowered, maybe I should have tried to lower the main and get a reef in. Given the wind speed I’m not sure the main sail would come down. Maybe I should have tried. All things to consider next time.
More of the story later; our recovery efforts from the Michigan side of the lake did not go as planned today as the boat drifted west 20 miles out from Milwaukee WI. apposed to a 60 mile run from the Michigan side. Currently we’re driving 6 hours to Milwaukee for an Italian dinner, hotel and hopefully a successful righting of the boat tomorrow. Thread.