Loss Of The Sailing Vessel J/World – Part 1

As the spray settles on the events surrounding the sinking of our J/120 off the coast of Baja, we have had time to start sorting thru the details and piece together what led to the loss of the boat, the abandoning of the vessel, and the swift rescue of her crew. There have been a tremendous amount of rumors and speculation which range from insightful to nutty, and there has been some mis-information…

I am guilty of a bit of the latter in that I initially reported that the boat sank in about 7 minutes. This came from a phone conversation with the skipper who was at the USCG base in San Diego after their helicopter rice, and she was still pretty amped. Anyone who knows Eugenie knows that she can fire off sentences like a gatling gun, and when she said the boat sank in seven minutes, what she meant and clarified later was that from the time they determined that there was no chance that they could save the vessel and that the water ingress was not to be diminished (essentially EPIRB on) until the time she saw the Windex slide by a couple of feet from her face, it was 5-7 minutes. The entire ordeal was more in the neighborhood of 45 minutes. So I stand corrected…

But now I am going to let Eugenie tell the incredible story:

Part I

At 10am we spotted as pod of whales. At first they appeared as action on the surface, bubble feeding or mating or other atypical activity. There was a weird feeling about their presence. Barry was driving, he was about to get off his shift (we all drove for an hour at a time). Winds 15 to 20knots, gusting 25 to 30, white caps top of the waves breaking, some pretty big. We were sailing on a broad reach, with a reefed main and small 90% jib. Seas 15 to 20 feet, with large swells, and we were surfing down the waves fast, at about 9-10 knots. I think Ray first said whale, as he spotted the initial one about 200 feet to port. We could see one, then down in the trough, and not and on top of wave, we saw another on our starboard.

Barry suddenly saw another in front of him, so he tried to head up, but because of the conditions and speed, he rounded-up. He said, “I am hard over, I have no steerage,” with the sails luffing momentarily. He recovered the boat, bore away and accelerated on course again, and as he surfed down the next wave, we all saw two whales about fifty feet away, and coming towards us. They were crossing on the port bow, and they dove down. Barry screamed something and I heard a big BANG, felt the boat stop and shake, like the keel had run aground. Another BANG and the boat rose up out of the water and shook sideways. The next blow was at the stern, lifting it, but I heard a crack and a tearing sound of fiberglass coming apart.

The wheel turned completely under Barry’s hands and I saw the engine control panel face plate (mounted on the bulkhead behind the wheel at knee level, just in front of the rudder post) hanging inside the cockpit. The cockpit shower compartment (underneath the engine panel) had been blown out towards the wheel as well. I could see the rudder shaft moving back and forth. The plastic inspection port cover for access to the upper rudder bearing had been literally blown off, and hit Barry in the back. I could see all of this from where I was standing in the companionway. I saw the whale’s fin or tail behind Barry, and somebody said, “Oh no, there’s blood in the water.”

Continued in Part II…

All of you out there have a safe watch, will you?

Wayne Zittel and the J World Team