Rescue at Sea
These are the log entries made by the crew of the sailing vessel Epiphany in the hours leading up to the abandonment of the vessel.
Watch 1800-2000 (Atlantic Time) – Gary and Harry
Weather: Mostly cloudy, mid 70’s, wind easterly at 20 to 25 kts. Sea Conditions: close rollers at 10’ to 12’ with some at 15’ and breaking, coming from the east-northeast in a disturbed uneven pattern causing significant rolling with frequent yawing as bow went into the trough and stern was snapped to leeward in a violent manner, tossing gear and crew about. Quarters below were already a significant mess, with failure of some cabinetry. Sleeping during off-watch was most difficult and spotty.
New watch schedule was in place, with single coverage at helm during 0600 to 1800 hrs. daylight period, rotating in a fresh crew-member every two hours. Double coverage during 4-hour watches continued during the 1800 to 0600 hrs. overnight period.
In the waning light with all crew present, the decision was made by Captain Ed to reduce sail further by striking the jib completely (already reduced by 1/3), and reducing mainsail from approx. 1/3 exposure to approx. 1/6 exposure, and engaging engine at 2600 rpm. This resulted in a reduction of forward speed from 7-8 kts. to 5-6 kts., but also provided a more steady ride as the bow no longer dove into waves causing frequent yaws and slapping of the port quarter. Also, waves crashing over the cockpit were reduced to nil as a result of this change in propulsion.
Except during sail plan changes, the vessel remained on auto pilot with watch person(s) monitoring course, speed, sea conditions and boat performance along course line which remained 4-6 miles east of our rhombi line to Cruz Harbor, St. John, USVI, where we planned to check in with Customs. Projected arrival time had been improving all day, resulting in better moral aboard Epiphany.
We had hoped and expected weather and sea conditions to improve, but they have not. The latest weather fax acquired only two to three hours earlier showed a series of low pressures at 1016 mb. We were proceeding through one of those lows, toward its center along our rhomb line, expecting winds to peak at 30 kts. and eventually come from the SE to S direction. We had been experiencing an increasing number of cells with increased clouds, wind (already gusting to 37 kts) and some rain with an occasional lightning flash up in the clouds – no surface strikes observed. The cloud formations and frequent cells passing by indicated no organized or deepening storm. We were confident at this time that we were safe and in relatively good shape, though tired, eating little, and frustrated with repeated knockabouts from the wave and wind conditions. We were pleased to be on a beam reach, achieving good forward progress along our course and projecting to be in safe harbor by the end of the day Friday or early Saturday morning.
Watch 2000 to 2200 hrs. Mitch and Gary
Conditions continued as above. However, at approx. 2100 hrs., with winds increasing to a more steady 26 to 30+ kts., Capt. Ed ordered a reduction in engine rpms to 1800 resulting in reduced forward speed of 4-6 kts., but less bow diving and port quarter smacking, thus a more calm and safe ride.
Watch 2200 to 2400 hrs., John and Mitch
Conditions above prevailed. Full moon lit up the sky above the clouds, giving us some ability to observe sea conditions through the occasional break in clouds.