What to do next?
23 Aug 2007
6pm GMT Roz has called me several times today on the satellite phone. She was making good progress without rowing. Following the two capsizes already mentioned on yesterday’s blog, she put out Sid the sea-anchor to keep the boat with bows facing the waves so that she would not roll again. During the night it did happen again.
Venturing out onto the deck to find out what Sid was doing, she found only 6 feet of rope attached to nothing. Sid had gone.
She called Rick her weather forecaster to find out what the prospects were, only to learn that MarineTrack had lost track of her. Her GPS was not working either, so she had no idea where she was. After her first phone call to me she tried deploying her drogue – which I gather is something like a big canvas bucket with a hole in it, which if streamed out behind the boat should help to keep it going straight. Since it would be risky to open the rear hatch, we had to discuss options as to how to affix the drogue to the rear of the boat. She went out to try, but did not feel she had been very successful.
By this time, we had called on the researchers at TOPP (Tagging of Pacific Predators) that have supplied the Brocade with 4 redundant satellite tracking devices. Don Kohrs was on the case immediately and got us a precise location for Roz. Shortly after, Roz went out again to retrieve her hand-held GPS from her emergency grab-bag in a hatch out on the deck.
Roz got very cold being out there, and is now lying in her wet sleeping bag, shivering. She had bumped her head during one of the capsizes.
In a later call when she knew the co-ordinates of her position, and I had made a few phone calls to find out the prospects of rescue, we debated whether she wished to be rescued or not. In some ways she felt that she could not continue without a sea anchor and with the damage done to some of her electronics. However, having got that far, and not wanting to give in at the first hurdle, she now says that she wants to stick it out for another 24 hours and see how it goes. There is a sea anchor available which could be taken out by helicopter and dropped for her. MarineTrack is again following her, with updated locations on our tracking page.
It is a real shame that this has happened so early in the voyage – and she really has moved some distance in the last day or so. It sounds like all the ingredients of a nightmare for those of us safely on terra firma. A living nightmare for Roz, she dreads another night of sleepless worry about whether the boat will capsize again. She feels safe, but not at all comfortable. Thank you for all your messages of encouragement and concern for her, and for me. We will keep you informed.
Roz On Dry Land: Safe, Healthy and Ready to Return to Sea
24 Aug 2007
Due to a combination of high seas to 14 feet and 35kt gale force winds, and the loss of her sea anchor, Roz made the decision last night to return to dry land and resume her journey when conditions improve. The United States Coast Guard arrived at the Brocade via helicopter to evacuate Roz at 8:30 p.m. PDT. She arrived safely in California at approximately 10:00 p.m., at which point she underwent a complete medical evaluation, standard procedure for a Coast Guard rescue. After a good meal and a full night’s sleep, Roz is in good spirits and has a clean bill of health.
The boat is currently still at sea, with its tracking systems in place, and the team is planning to retrieve it as soon as the weather conditions improve. At that point, Roz looks forward to returning to the San Francisco Bay Area in the next few days and exploring options for retrieving her boat and continuing her adventure under optimal conditions.
On behalf of Roz and her family, her friends and her shore team, we’d like to express our gratitude to the USCG for their assistance. Roz also appreciates the outpouring of well-wishes during the past few days and sends her thanks to everyone for their ongoing support.
Last evening Roz was airlifted off her boat and is now in California. More news will be coming shortly.
Click on the Weather tab [not available on this blog] above to see the new weather report by Rick Shema. Other weather information is regrettably not up to date as a result of malfunction of a recording device on the boat.
Because of the volume of comments, we’ve disabled the standard web comments and request that you use the Contact Form to send Roz messages of support. Thank you.
Dramatic Rescue at Sea
24 Aug 2007, USCG Humboldt Bay, Northern California
Thanks all the people who have been in touch to express concern for my safety. I can assure you that I am absolutely fine, and am making plans to return to the Brocade as soon as possible. More of that later, but first I would like to present the ‘authorised’ version of yesterday’s events, plus the link to the YouTube video…
A powerful wave rear-ended my boat. I shot down my bunk, my sleeping bag tobogganning over the slippery vinyl of the mattress. I came to an abrupt halt when my skull collided with the wall at the end of the cabin.
I sat up. Blood trickled down my face. I explored the damage with my fingers. It didn’t seem too bad. I dabbed the blood away with a flannel and lay back down on my bunk to try and sleep, although it wasn’t easy to do more than doze as my boat lurched around on the high seas.
This was Wednesday night. The night before, Tuesday, I had capsized twice. The first time the Brocade rolled right over until she was upside down in the water. I lay flattened on the roof of my cabin, while all around me belongings escaped from their straps and slid around the curved walls of the cabin like garments in a washing machine. For what felt a long time the Brocade remained inverted. I held my breath, willing her to turn. At last she slowly started to self-right, and my belongings and I returned to the floor of the cabin – but in a very different arrangement from how we had started out. The cabin was a mess, with the majority of the objects piled up on top of my legs and feet.
I moved enough things aside so I could get out of my sleeping bag to check the status on the darkened deck. As I opened the hatch the wind was blowing strongly and spray was flying through the air. I clipped into my waiststrap so that if another destructive wave came along I wouldn’t be parted from the Brocade. It didn’t look too bad out here, considering what had just happened. I unfastened the cockpit bags from their fixings and stowed them in a hatch, just to be on the safe side. A huge wave crashed over the side of the boat, drenching me in cold seawater.
Soaked, I returned to my cabin and tried to get warm again inside my sleeping bag. I strapped myself down to the bunk using the straps secured to the cabin floor, hoping this would stop me ending up on the ceiling if I should roll again.
Two hours later the second capsize came. The restraining straps ripped out of their fixings on the floor and once again I was on the ceiling.
This time when I went out on deck the bags containing the various sections of the sea anchor had escaped their ties. The sea anchor – of course. That would help. I deployed the large parachute over the side of the boat and gradually she turned so that her bows pointed into the waves. Instead of sideswiping the Brocade, the waves now pushed past her sides so that she pitched more forward-and-back rather than side to side. This should reduce the risk of capsize, I hoped. I returned to my bunk.
The next day was rough, but nothing worse than I had seen on the Atlantic. The safest place was in the cabin, so I spent most of the day below, trying to stay as warm and dry as I could while the waves raged around the Brocade. It wasn’t easy – the cabin was increasingly wet and unpleasant – both my hatches had leaked slightly while they were submerged, so everything was damp. I was glad of the waterproof casing on my sleeping bag.
I made a list of the damage. The GPS chartplotter wasn’t working – the screen came on but it wasn’t managing to fix my position, so the connection to the satellite antenna must have come adrift. One of the masts on the roof of my cabin, supporting various antenna and aerials, had come adrift and was swinging forlornly. The navigation light wouldn’t come on, and the raillight was full of water. My seed sprouter had vanished overboard. Wilson’s head was hanging at a strange angle, as if he had a crick in his neck.
I spoke to my weatherman at regular intervals throughout the day. The prospect was not appealing – at least another 60 hours of these rough conditions, gale force winds and seas of 8-11 feet – but I was still determined that I could hang in there.
The second night of the gale arrived. After the rear-ending wave I tried to get back to sleep, but a little later the boat capsized again, for the third time in 24 hours. My head cracked against the cabin ceiling and again I felt the trickle of blood.
But how had this happened? The sea anchor was out so the Brocade should have been facing into the waves. On deck the truth became clear – the main line to the sea anchor was severed just 6 feet from the point where it attached to the boat. I pulled in the backup line to the sea anchor, the tripline. But that, too, came to a premature end, at the first of the two flotation buoys. My brand new sea anchor was gone.
This was bad news. Now I had no defence against further capsizes. I deployed a pair of small drogues, but they didn’t seem to make enough difference.
I reckoned I could still tough it out. Tori Murden had capsized something like 12 times in 15 hours when she was attempting to become the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. That was my benchmark, and things were still a long way short of being that bad.
But that afternoon the decision started to be taken away from me. A small plane flying overhead announced itself to be from the US Coast Guard, and told me that a 660 foot ship, the Overseas Long Beach was going to bring me a sea anchor. This was welcome news. Less welcome was the news that USCG Control wanted to talk with me “to discuss the viability of your voyage”. The USCG ship Dorado was on its way, ETA sunset. I had not contacted the coastguard, but it seemed they were now aware of my situation and were concerned.
In my mind, the voyage was still totally viable. I still had my oars and my rowing seat, as far as I knew my watermaker was still working, and apart from a couple of dings and dents to the cranium I was fine. I trusted completely the seaworthiness of the Brocade and I felt that the risk of death was extremely small while I stayed with her.
But the weather was going to get even worse over the next 48 hours, according to the USCG. They told me that I was already right on the outer edge of the range of their helicopters, and later on in the afternoon I would learn that the 82 foot USCG vessel Dorado had turned back because the conditions were too bad. If I was going to require assistance to survive this storm, I was running out of options. I would soon be beyond the range of land-based help.
I was distracted from further thoughts at that point because the Overseas Long Beach arrived. I was surprised to see how the huge ship wallowed in the heavy seas. Waves crashed around her bows, looming like cliffs from the water. The ship came as close as they dared without swamping me, but despite repeated attempts we were unable to get the line from them to me so that I could receive the sea anchor. At last, on about the seventh attempt, I managed to fish the line out of the water and hauled what seemed like about 500 feet of line on board. At the end was a small sea drogue. It wasn’t as large as the 12-foot para-anchor I had lost, but maybe it would work.
It took about an hour to disentangle the lines and eventually I managed to deploy the anchor. I watched anxiously to see if the Brocade would pivot around to lie bow-on to the waves. At first I thought it had worked – the Brocade turned through 90 degrees – but then she carried on turning until she had done a full 180, so I was still sideways to the waves, just the other way around. Sideways was not where I wanted to be. This was where I was vulnerable to capsize.
I felt suddenly exhausted. I had barely slept for two nights, I hadn’t been eating much, my appetite affected by the constant movement of the boat. I had spent hours on deck trying to get hold of this sea anchor, and now it didn’t seem to be working. The prospect of another dark night of capsizes loomed.
Right then the US Coast Guard called back. “We need a decision, right now,” they said. “By tomorrow you will be out of range of a helicopter rescue, and we can’t get a boat out to you in these conditions. The weather is going to deteriorate, and we are very concerned about you.” I begged for 5 minutes to consider my options.
After talking to my weather man I realised that this decision was going to have to be mine and mine alone. It was a toughie.
On the one hand, I pride myself on being fiercely independent, and on not quitting when the going gets tough. On the other hand, the safety of the Brocade was now somewhat compromised with the loss of my sea anchor and the broken bunk straps. I still had at least 2 months more out on the ocean, and wanted to be ready for whatever the weather may choose to throw at me in the future. I was being offered an opportunity here to pause and make my boat properly ocean-ready before continuing. It went against my instincts, but it seemed to be the sensible thing to do.
I rang them back. “OK, let’s do it,” I said. “Come and get me.”
As soon as I rang off I started to cry. This wasn’t how I had wanted things to be. But the decision had been made. After a couple of minutes I pulled myself together and started to make ready for evacuation. I put all my most important pieces of technology into a single Pelican case, and put on my immersion suit and lifejacket.
About an hour later the USCG helicopter appeared overhead. Via the VHF radio they told me what to do. When I saw their man being lowered into the water on the winch, I was to jump into the sea. Then they would attach me to the winch and pull me up into the helicopter.
Looking at the ever-roughening seas, the rescue seemed more terrifying than staying on board, but I attached the Pelican case to my waiststrap and made ready to abandon ship. Once the swimmer was in the water I slid awkwardly over the side, around the end of the oars, into the water.
The Pelican case dragged me down and the oversized immersion suit flapped at my feet. I wallowed over to my orange-clad rescuer. The Brocade seemed to want to follow me – the wind was blowing her almost over the top of me – so I had to swim clear of her path. The Coastie grabbed me and manoeuvered me onto the winch. Seawater splashed over my head as we waited for the helicopter to rise. After what felt like a long time the line went taut and we were being lifted clear of the water.
I looked down at the Brocade. From being my whole world for the last 10 days she now looked so small and forlorn amidst the foaming white waves. I felt awful for abandoning her. This didn’t seem right.
“You can always get another boat,” said the Coastie, trying to cheer me up.
I was aghast. “No, I’m coming back for this one,” I declared, and already I meant it. “And soon.”
P.S. I have heard via the USCG that some “salvage operators” have already shown an interest in retrieving the Brocade. I am not sure, under the laws of the sea, what the situation is. All I can do is to issue this plea:
Please, please, do not touch my boat. I intend to return to her just as soon as the weather calms down. I will make a few running repairs to restore her to a safe condition and continue on my way. I hope that this rescue mission will happen in the next two to three days.
I intend to carry on, preferably from where I left off, but failing that, then from wherever the Brocade has drifted to between now and then. This plan would be utterly thwarted if anybody has moved her or interfered with her in the meantime.
Please respect my wishes and leave her alone until I return.
Comments posted at the time – a few of them negative, but my staunch supporters rallied to my defence, for which I am forever grateful. Most of the criticism is based on factual misconceptions, which are covered in my subsequent post, Putting The Record Straight. When you click on that link you will also see a record of how I coped with the first few days ashore, the salvage of my boat, and a video recorded in my cabin showing my end of the dialogue with the USCG in the run-up to the rescue.
25 Aug 2007, Eureka, California
I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to the many people who have played such significant roles in my life over the last 48 hours:
– the crew of the USCG helicopter – pilot Stephen Baxter, flight mechanic Jason Bauer, flight commander Kevin Winters and rescue swimmer Chuck Wolfe
– Clint and the crew of the USCG airplane
– the captain and crew of the Overseas Long Beach
– the staff at USCG Humboldt Bay
– my support team:
– and of course my poor, long-suffering mother, Rita Savage.
Also to David Helvarg at Blue Frontier Campaign, and CEO Michael Klayko and all the staff at Brocade for their continued support.
Thanks also to the new friends I have made in Eureka – Rich, Marilyn, Ken and Jack, for their hospitality, support, food and clothing.
I am aware that recent events have evoked a large number of comments. I had the strange experience of sitting in a coffee shop in Eureka today and overhearing people discussing the front page news – me.
Most of the comments to this site have been positive and supportive – and for that I thank you.
As to the naysayers, rather than responding in words I will allow my actions to speak. For now, know that your words only fuel my determination to do this and to do it right. And so I thank you too.
Now we know, of course, that the story had a happy ending. The following year, after some adjustments to my boat to keep her the right way up, I was back out there again. This time the dream came true, and I was able to leave from under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. 3 years, 8,000 miles, around 2.5 million oarstrokes, and 250 days of rowing later, I arrived in Papua New Guinea to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean.
Get the full story in Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific – coming out this October!