Knockdown
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[The Story] [Lessons Learned]
Once again they took me out into the ocean, unprepared, and let those big waves climb all over me.

We had been hanging out at Musket Cove Resort on Malolo Lailai in Fiji having a great time. I got to tie up at a dock for a change, so I was quietly providing shelter to some needy barnacles and sea grass while my owners ran from party to party  and drank long into the night.  All of a sudden the marina came alive with activity as people prepared to sail off into the sunset to Port Vila in the annual Musket Cove-Port Vila Regatta.  Guys in uniforms flew in and made the owners sign papers, provisions were loaded, boxes of liquor were delivered (MY waterline went down by a couple of cases!), weapons loaded onto the American boats, and boats started to stream out towards the starting line.

I was a little sluggish as my barnacle friends insisted on tagging along, so the skipper decided to stop at a mooring and clean the bottom.  Normally this is OK, but the fleet kept moving towards the starting line, 5 miles away, as Bob and Judi swam around my hull and knocked my new-found friends off - oh well, I'll collect more later! By the time they were finished, most of the fleet was a couple of miles ahead, and we were going to miss the 'skimpiest bikini contest' at the start line - sigh!  

The wind had been light (less than 5 knots) and there was nary a whisper from the organizing committee or any other boats about any big winds or seas, so my complacent crew took it easy, left things sitting around in the cockpit and on settees, didn't tie down drawers, and generally was pretty lackadaisical. Beyond the start line, the committee boat led us through a pass in the reef, and I could see my buddies ahead of me crashing into waves as salt water splashed all over their nice dry decks, masts swung from side to side and the sails became smaller. Fortunately, Judi had insisted on keeping my 1st reef in, so as the wind quickly went from nil to 30 knots, and the waves picked up to 4 meters we were in some semblance of control.

Knockdown! - With these big waves, my crew was focused on holding on and steering and finally left me in the usually-capable hands of 'Betsy' (my wind-vane).  Out of the blue, a rouge wave knocked my stern around and Bob yelled "Watch Out, we're going over" as a breaking wave on my port beam lifted that side and rolled me over so that my starboard spreader kissed the water.  Well, I popped right back up as I was designed to do, but I could feel my innards churn as the navigation table up-chucked all over the cabin floor and cutlery from the galley joined the navigation gear on the floor.  The canvas cover that connects the dodger to the bimini quietly floated out of my cockpit and Judi briefly thought "Should I jump over and get it ...".  As quickly as it came, the seas settled back into their routine and we continued on our way - but now Bob and Judi took turns at the wheel - guess 'Betsy' did not like being left alone with that rogue wave.  Fortunately over the next 12 hours the wind and waves abated and by early morning we were zipping along at speed with 20 knots on my port quarter.

 

Lessons Learned

Always Stow Loose Items - We thought we were in for a easy sail since the wind seemed light, but when sailing off-shore the conservative approach is to stow everything securely, and bring items out only when needed.

Check for Conditions - We took silence on the VHF radios to mean that conditions ˝ hour ahead of us were smooth - it probably means they were too busy to bother reporting rough conditions to others in the fleet.

Report Conditions - Think of your fellow cruisers, and when the conditions change so drastically, take a few seconds to report this to others - the seas changed from flat to 3 meter swells within less than ˝ hour.

Remember Similar Situations - Each time we had left a reef on the south side of Fiji, the seas had seemed really big, and we should have anticipated that they would be the same on the west side.

[The next story is a very sad one]

 
 

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