Friday, October 26, 0700-1000 hrs

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Rescue at Sea

0700 to 1000 hrs. With the dawning sun low on the horizon, Mitch was first to see the absolutely immense (316,676 ton) Atlantic Prosperity coming out of the east. Communications with AP and the USCG continued. It now became clear that the USCG was not coming at all.

The Captain of the AP made the decision to bring us aboard, though it was still not known if we would be going along to Nigeria or if some effort would be made to connect elsewhere with the USCG for our removal by helicopter or CG vessel.



We continued preparations to abandon Epiphany. All of her deck and topside hatches remained secured. Only the companionway remained open. Crew gathered all of their possessions and separated out those items that must remain on board from those items that might be retrieved in the rescue effort. Capt. Ed planned to leave with the Sat Phone and some of the boat’s papers. Gary prepared a “ditch bag” that included the log, his camera and some clothing. The rest of the crew packed ditch bags that included laptops, cameras and some clothing, but these would be left aboard Epiphany due to the difficulties that lay ahead.

The Atlantic Prosperity adeptly maneuvered to our windward, turning her bow to the north and her port side to us, creating lee protection as she slowly drifted down on our position. We deployed the inflatable and quickly convinced ourselves that use of the outboard would be unsafe in these seas. The inflatable would be best utilized as a transporting tool for one person at a time to the receiving vessel, secured with a line fore and aft to complete the ferrying of souls off of the Epiphany.

Atlantic Prosperity

Atlantic Prosperity

Epiphany at a distance

Epiphany at a distance

As the distance closed between the Epiphany and the AP, the Epiphany turned bow to the port side of the AP. First contact was bow-to, with a gentle thud. Crew of the AP sent down lines from some 80’ above. We were directed by the AP’s Chief Officer to secure lines bow and stern. This was done successfully. The mast of E. began to slam into the AP, and soon the starboard side hull of E. began to bang into the AP. As directed by AP, we deployed our 4 fenders while AP sent down two of her fenders on lines to help diminish damage from banging hull to hull.

The bows of both vessels pointed to the north. The AP crew pulled E aft toward the south to move her away from the bow of AP toward more calm waters amidships. Then AP sent down a ladder, inviting our crew to climb up the 80’ to her main deck cap rail. John made the first attempt to get aboard the ladder, but found it impossible to stabilize himself and make any progress upward. After several attempts, we decided to assist John back on board the E. John had to be pulled in quickly to avoid being crushed between the hulls.

Communication with the AP Chief Officer above was very difficult, as his voice, though strong, was being distorted by the distance and the constant noise of the wind, seas and banging hulls. Also, his commands to us were at times confused with commands to his own crew, and his Croat-accented English was difficult to understand. When it became clear that the use of the Jacobs ladder was not practical or safe, the CO of AP went to a new plan.



After deploying a new stern line (the first one broke under the strain of the load), the AP crew moved the E further aft. Using the AP’s portside boom, located further aft, they lowered a cargo net with the pallet inside. Gary got into the inflatable and drifted and paddled with his hands toward the lowering cargo net. The AP CO determined that the pallet was not safe and directed Gary to take it out of the net. However, the pallet was secured to the net in two places and could not be safely removed by Gary from his position in the inflatable which was being tossed by the wild seas. Gary pushed the pallet aside, clambered inside the net with his right foot, held on the top of the net with his hands and arms and indicated to the crew above that he was ready to be raised. After a near complete dunking, the net began its journey aloft. Gary rappelled with his left leg all the way to the cap rail and was brought over the cap to the main deck.

With the first crewmember safely aboard, the pallet was removed and the net was lowered to repeat the rescue process four more times. Mitch, then Harry, then John and finally Capt. Ed were raised and brought aboard. Minor bumps and bruises were incurred by the four remaining crew as the AP rocked and E crewmembers were thrown against the hull of the AP. Once all were safely aboard, the boom hoisting process taking only 25 minutes or so, the CO asked Captain Ed for permission to cut the Epiphany loose from the AP. With great reluctance, Capt. Ed agreed, and the E was cut loose with the dinghy still attached to her stern.

Friday October 26, 0000-0700 hrs

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Rescue at Sea

Watch 2400 to 0200 hrs., Ed and John

Conditions continued as above.

01:10 hrs. John is at the helm and he observes sudden turn, with bow going up into the wind. With autopilot on standby, John attempts to gain control of steerage at wheel. No response to helm. Summons Capt. Ed for assistance. Capt. Ed attempts to re-gain steerage at helm with no success.

01:15hrs. All crew alerted to emergency situation and scramble to assist, life jackets donned.

01:25 hrs. After discovering that the rudder has fallen off of the vessel (both John and Ed report seeing part of the rudder floating away), Capt. Ed orders crew to initiate Mayday calls on VHF and to turn on the EPIRB [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon]. Harry begins regular pattern of Mayday calls on Channel 16. The EPIRB bag is located immediately in the portside quarter berth, but appeared to be empty. A boat-wide search of the unit began. Meanwhile, Capt. Ed and John were above and inspected the rudderpost top, affirming that the rudder was essentially gone, but that the vessel hull was not compromised. The drogue was employed and immediately provided vessel stability in rolling seas. The drogue deployed to the east, abeam of the vessel, apparently responding to the current that came from the west. The vessel proceeded at .1 to .4 knots southerly along the rhomb line.

01:35 hrs. While Harry and Mitch continued to search for the EPIRB, Gary initiated a call on the SAT PHONE to Deb. He reached her and explained our circumstance, gave her our LAT LONG position and sea/wind conditions and asked her to call USCG Station Gloucester (MA), to utilize their resources to alert USCG in St. Thomas or San Juan, PR to initiate a rescue operation. I reminded her that she had a copy of our Float Plan and to call 911 to provide an immediate connection to Station Gloucester rather than either of us trying to locate the base telephone number at this time.

01:45 hrs. Gary located the Gloucester Station phone number on the Float Plan and called the base. Learned that they had been called by Deb and had begun reaching out to USCG in our area. Gloucester Station asked Gary a few more questions, making sure we had life jackets on, updating our position and inquiring about sea and wind conditions as well as boat integrity. Gloucester gave us a USCG phone number to call apparently in our local area. Meanwhile, Harry continued with regular intervals of Mayday calls over VHF. The EPIRB was located (right where it was supposed to be, but it was smaller than expected and had been overlooked), and it was activated.

0200 hrs. onward, All Hands

0200 to 0400 hrs. Calls were made to USCG via Sat Phone by Capt. Ed. The initial response from CG was that they were deploying a vessel to our scene, some 180 kt miles north of St. Thomas. CG told us that they would contact us every 30 minutes to update our Lat Long position and apprise us of rescue efforts. Subsequently, we learned from CG that they had sought assistance from any nearby vessel and contacted the LLV Atlantic Prosperity, which was eastbound from Galveston, TX. headed for Nigeria. AP agreed to change course for our location and stand by until CG arrived on scene. ETA of AP was approx. 0700 hrs.

Meanwhile, Gary and Ed worked on a plan to create an emergency rudder by bringing the boom aft to the cockpit, assessing its potential to have some plywood crafted to it, and then having the improvised rig attached to the emergency tiller. Unfortunately, with sea conditions so violent, to try an implement such a plan at this time would be extremely risky to the crew. Such efforts were postponed to a time when sea and wind conditions could allow. The boom was returned to its port rail, forward position.

Gary, Ed and John discussed the idea of implementing a sail plan with engine propulsion that would allow for controlled forward progress (deploying a small area of the jib and back wind it, a small exposure of the mainsail with slight pressure applied, and use of a few rpms on the engine to accomplish forward movement and stability). However, once again, it was determined that present conditions, with port beam rollers of 15’, some cresting and slamming the port quarter, and winds increasing to steady plus 30 kts, with gusts to 35+ kts, it was agreed by all crew members that such a plan also must be postponed until conditions allowed for a safe implementation.

Ed brought out the 100 ft of 5/8” towline and affixed it to the two bow cleats. The remaining 300 ft. of drogue line was coiled and readied for use. The sea anchor stood ready for deployment at the bow as needed. The mainsail’s remaining 1/6 deployment was struck and secured.

0400 to 0700 hrs. Regular calls from the CG were now extended from every 30 minutes to a 2-hour interval. We were becoming confused with the intentions of the USCG. Were they coming? Would they come at all?

Attempts were made to contact the LLV Atlantic Prosperity by VHF, channel 16. By approximately 05:30 we were beginning to pick up radio contact from the AP. We estimated they were some 20 to 25 miles away.

Over the course of the next hour, we remained confused as to the intentions of the USCG. Another call to USCG left us with the impression that they might not be coming after all – or, if they were coming, it would take at least 10 hours before their arrival on scene as they would be coming from San Juan PR. A helicopter intercept to our present location was not expected due to the distance away from shore. Crew moral sank at the prospect of many more hours (or days) at sea in these conditions.

Though cloud cover and instances of cells with high wind gusts decreased, steady winds from the east increased to an average of 35 kts and sea heights continued to increase, as did the frequency and steepness of the waves. This caused physical chaos on the boat below decks and increasing concern over the longer term integrity of the vessel. Getting off the boat was becoming a greater and greater priority.

At approximately 06:45 hrs. we had good VHF radio contact with the AP. Harry conducted all of the voice contact and was getting encouraging news that the AP might take us on board, though it might also mean going to Nigeria with them. We began to discuss how we would abandon the Epiphany by making use of the inflatable, and where to position the inflatable in relation to the Epiphany and the AP. Regular radio contact with AP was maintained. However, nearing 0700 hours we discovered that our signal strength to AP was weakening. We learned that one of our Lat Long coordinates had been either issued by us incorrectly, or heard by AP and transcribed incorrectly, resulting in AP steaming by us to the south. The error was corrected and AP turned back from the East toward our correct position. We maintained a constant visual watch for AP while continuing discussion as to how to disembark Epiphany safely.

It was becoming clear that the USCG was not coming at all.

Thursday, October 25

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series 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.

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