First-hand report from yacht lost in the Atlantic.

Bob

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"For those interested in the chain of events without journalistic distortion I am posting the log:

Cape Cod, May 12th 2007


This is the log of actions and events driven by the only-subsequently named Sub-tropical Storm Andrea, leading to the sinking of s/v Sean Seamour II and the successful rescue of its entire crew on the early morning of May 7th 2007."

FULL LOG

Interesting reading.
 

machurley22

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I got straight in no problem but here's the text:

Cape Cod, May 12th 2007


This is the log of actions and events driven by the only-subsequently named Sub-tropical Storm Andrea, leading to the sinking of s/v Sean Seamour II and the successful rescue of its entire crew on the early morning of May 7th 2007.

We departed from Green Cove Springs on the Saint Johns River in the early morning of May 2nd, 2007. Gibraltar was our prime destination with a planned stopover in the Azores for recommissioning and eventually fuel. The vessel, on its second crossing was fully prepared and some of the recent preparations done by Holland Marine and skipper with crew were as follows:

• Full rig check, navigation lights, new wind sensor, sheet and line check / replacement
• New autopilot, stuffing box and shaft seal, house battery bank, racor fuel filtering system
• Bottom paint, new rudder bearing and check, new auxiliary tiller, full engine maintenance
• Recertification of life raft and check of GPIRB (good to November 2007), update and replacement of all security equipment (PFDs, flares, medical, etc).

Although paper charts were available for all planned destinations, with increased dependence on electronic navigational aids, two computers were programmed to handle both the MaxSea navigation software (version 12.5) as well as the Iridium satphone for weather data (MaxSea Chopper and OCENS). A full electronic systems checkout and burn trial was done during the days prior to departure.

For heavy weather and collision contingencies cutter rigged Sean Seamour II was equipped with two drogues (heavy and light), collision mat, auxiliary electric pump, as well as extensive power tools to enable repairs at sea with the 2.4kva inverter. Operational process and use of this equipment was discussed at length with the crew in anticipation. Other physical process contingencies such as lashing, closing seacocks, companionway doors, etc. were equally treated.

The 7 day weather GRIBs downloaded almost daily from April 25th onwards showed no inconsistencies, with the two high and two low pressure systems fairly balanced over the western Atlantic. Only the proximity of the two low pressure systems seemed to warrant surveillance as the May 5th GRIB would indicate with a flow increase from the N,NO from 20 to 35 knots focused towards coastal waters.

Already on a northerly course some 200 nautical miles out, I maintained our navigational plan with a N,NE heading until increased winds warranted a more easterly tack planned approximately 300 nautical miles north of Bermuda towards the Azores.

Wind force increased about eight hours earlier than expected and later shifted to the NE reaching well into the 60 knots range by early afternoon, then well beyond as the winds shifted. Considering that we were confronted with a sustained weather system that was quite different from the gulf stream squall lines we had weathered previous days, by mid afternoon I decided to take appropriate protective measures.

From our last known position approximately 217 nautical miles east of Cape Hatteras I reversed course, laying my largest drogue off the starboard stern while maintaining a quarter of the storm jib on the inner roller furl. This was designed to balance the boat's natural windage due in large part to its hard dodger and center pit structure.

By late afternoon the winds were sustained at well over 70 knots and seas were building fast. I estimate seas were well into 25 feet by dusk but after adding approximately 150 feet of drogue line the vessel handled smoothly over the next eight hours advancing with the seas at about 6 knots (SOG). By late evening the winds were sustained above 74 kts and a crew member recorded a peak of 85.5 kts.

Growing and irregular seas were the primary concern as in the very early hours of the morning the boat was increasingly struck by intermittant waves to its port side. Crew had to be positioned against the starboard side as both were tossed violently across the boat. Water began to accumulate seemingly fed through the stern engine-room air cowls. I believe in retrospect the goosenecks were insufficient with the pitch of larger waves as they were breaking onto the stern.

At approximately 02.45 hours we were violently knocked all the way down to starboard. It appears that the resulting angle and tension may have caused the drogue line to rupture (clean cut), perhaps as it rubbed against the same engine-room air-intake cowl positioned just below the cleat. The line was attached to the port side main winch then fed through the cleat where it was covered with anti-chaffing tape and lubricant. Before abandoning ship I noticed the protected part of the line was intact and extended beyond the cleat some five inches. Its position in the cleat rather than retracted from it also supports this theory.

After the knockdown I knew there was already structural damage and that we had lost control of the vessel. I pulled the GPIRB (registered to USCG documented Sean Seamour II) but I suspect that the old EPIRB from 1996 (Registered to USCG documented Lou Pantai, but kept as the vessel was sold to an Italian national in 1998) might have been automatically launched first. I kept this unit as a redundancy latched in its housing on the port side of the hard dodger; it may have been ejected upon the first knockdown as Coast Guard Authorities questioned relatives with this vessel name versus Sean Seamour II. Herein lies a question that needs to be answered, hopefully it will be in light of the USCG report.

The GPIRB initially functioned but the strobe stopped and the intensity of the light diminished rapidly to the extent that I do not know if the Coast Guard received that signal. At the time were worried the unit was not emitting and I reinitiated the unit twice. The unit sent for recertification with the life raft a few weeks prior had been returned from River Services. They had responded to Holland Marine that the unit was good until this coming November, functioned appropriately, and that the battery had an extra five year life expectancy. I will await reception of the Coast Guard report to find out if one or both signals was processed as all POCs were questioned regarding Lou Pantai and not my current vessel Sean Seamour II (both vessels had been / in the case of Sean Seamour II is US Coast Guard documented).

Expecting worse to come I re-lashed and locked all openings and the companionway. At 02:53hours we were struck violently again and began a roll to 180 degrees. As the vessel appeared to stabilize in this position I unlocked the companionway roof to exit an see where the life raft was. It had disappeared from its poop deck cradle which I could directly access as the helm and pedestal had been torn away. When I emerged to the surface against the boat's starboard (in righted port position) it began its second 180 degree roll. As it emerged the rig was almost longitudinal to the boat barely missing the stern arch. Spreaders were arrayed over pit and port side, mast cleanly bent at deck level, forestays apparently torn away.

I ordered the crew to start all pumps. By their own volition they also cut out 2.5 gallon water bottles to enable physical bailing while I continued to locate the liferaft. It finally appeared upside down under the rig. As its sea anchors and canopy lines were entangled in the rig and partially torn by one of the spreaders I decided to cut them away in an effort to save time and effort. I needed the crew below and had to manage the rig entanglement alone. This done I managed to move the unit forward and use its windward position to blow it over the bow to starboard, attaching it still upside down.

Below, water was being stabilized above the knees. The new higher positioned house battery bank was not shorted by the water level but the engine bank was flooded not enabling us to start the engine and pump from the bilge instead of the seacock. In retrospect this was not a loss as having to keep one of the companionway doors off for bailing and to route the Rule pump pipe, the water pouring in from here and the through-deck mast hole were no match for the impeller' volume. Plugging the mast passage was also not a solution as it was moving and hitting violently against the starboard head wall and was dangerous to try to cope with.

I knew the situation was desperate but it was still safer to stay aboard than to abandon ship, let alone in the dark any earlier than necessary. Estimating daylight at about 05:30 hours, we needed to hold on for at least another two hours. As the boat shifted in the waves it became increasingly vulnerable to flooding from breaking waves. One such wave at about 05:20 added about 18 inches of water, as the bow was now barely emerged these two factors triggered my decision to abandon ship. I exited first knowing that the raft was still upside down. In addition, some of the canopy lines still needed to be cut from the rig entanglement. In the precipitation the grab bag containing Iridium phone, VHF, GPS and all our personal and ship documents was lost.

As we boarded the now upturned raft it immediately flooded with the breaking waves and once unprotected from the wind by the hull structure was prone to turn over (no sea anchors nor canopy to roll over on). Hypothermia was already gaining upon one of my crew and myself and our efforts to right and re-enter the raft drained strength. Periods spent lying on the overturned raft exposed to the wind seemed to further weaken us.

Sean Seamour II sank a few minutes after we abandoned ship fully disappearing from view after the second wave crest.

We became aware of fixed wing overflight sometime between 06:00 and 07:00 hours and estimate that the Coast Guard helicopter arrived some time around 08:30 hours. As seemingly the most affected by hypothermia and almost unconscious the crew had me lifted out first. It was a perilous process during which Coast Guard AST2 Dazzo was himself injured (later to be hospitalized with us). The liferaft was destroyed and abandoned by AST2 Dazzo as the third crew member was extracted. He also recouped the GPIRB which remained in USCG custody.

The emotions and admiration felt by my crew and myself to the dedication of this Coast Guard team is immeasurable, all the more so when hearing them comment on the severity and risk of the extraction, perhaps the worst they had seen in ten years (dixit SAT2 Dazzo). They claim to have measured 50 plus foot waves which from our perspective were mountains. We measured after the first knockdown and before loosing our rig winds still in excess of 72 knots.

Also to be commended are the medical teams involved, from our ambulatory transfer of custody from the rescue team to the personnel awaiting us at Cherry Point Naval Hospital. There the personnel under Director for Administration CDR Robert S. Fry sought not only to address our physical and medical trauma, but preempted the humanitarian crisis we were facing after all this loss and anguish by bringing in the disaster relief assistance of the American Red Cross to whom we owe the clothes, shelter and food that helped us survive this ordeal.

JP de Lutz s/v Sean Seamour II

A note of caution regarding your EPIRB - have it check out by the manufacuturer to make sure it is registered to your boat, your life depends on it and it appears there are more cases than mine of faulty registration. When the Coast Guard received a distress signal they start by contacting poc's, if they find that the EPIRB's registered owner has not triggered the distress signal they disregard as an error emanating from the unit.
 

dom

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Wow what a story! They all did incredibly well - including the rescue crew. It must have been horrendous.

With regard to the EPIRB registration I think that I will check that mine is correctly registered without delay. The point that the Coastguard will disregard a signal if the location of the vessel to which it is registered is known and safe I think applies equally in the UK.
 

LadyInBed

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[ QUOTE ]
When the Coast Guard received a distress signal they start by contacting poc's, if they find that the EPIRB's registered owner has not triggered the distress signal they disregard as an error emanating from the unit.

[/ QUOTE ] Can this really be so?
If the position reported is mid Atlantic, who cares if it was not the registered owner, tucked up in bed, who set it off!
 
G

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It sounded like a huge yacht so I went searching. I found these details:

[ QUOTE ]
... aboard his well-equipped 44-foot boat, Sean Seamour II,

[/ QUOTE ]


[ QUOTE ]
Ship Builder BENETEAU S.A.

[/ QUOTE ]

[ QUOTE ]
Battling fierce winds and seas about 40 miles away from the Sean Seamour II that same day was 54-foot sailboat Flying Colours on its way from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Annapolis, Md. On board that vessel were four crew members, including Rhiannon Borisoff, 22, the granddaughter of Clarence and Daisy Whatmough of East Orleans. The boat sent out an emergency distress signal May 7 and has not been heard from or seen since.



[/ QUOTE ]

It looks like NOAA are predicting a high amount of storms for this years as well.
 

ParaHandy

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the first indication of this storm came on the GMDSS forecast on the morning of the 5th

...STORM WARNING...
.48 HOUR FORECAST NEW LOW 32N 71W 1007 MB. FORECAST WINDS 40 TO
55 KT SEAS 14 TO 22 FT WITHIN 240 NM NW QUADRANT. ALSO FORECAST
WINDS 25 TO 40 KT SEAS 10 TO 16 FT WITHIN 420 NM NW SEMICIRCLE
OVER FORECAST WATERS.

The following day's forecast, the storm had become a hurricane

...HURRICANE FORCE WIND WARNING...
.12 HOUR FORECAST LOW 34N 72W 1005 MB. FORECAST WINDS 40 TO 55
KT SEAS 12 TO 24 FT WITHIN 240 NM NW SEMICIRCLE.
.24 HOUR FORECAST LOW 32N 73W 998 MB. FORECAST WINDS 55 TO 70 KT
SEAS 22 TO 34 FT WITHIN 180 NM NW AND N QUADRANTS.

Their position 35N 71W, 217m E of Cape Hattras, is in the N quadrant. We were 800m to the ESE at the time. We had our own mini depression a few days later where a not very deep low (but deep relative to Azores 1035mb) suddenly appeared from nowhere with vicious little wind.

You wonder what size of helicopter can make a 500m round trip and do what they did in those conditions ...

... 7 days later the GFS model from NOAA/NWP computer which generates the GRIB files went offline ("power outage on primary and secondary power supply") for 4 days ...
 

silver-fox

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The first thing that struck me about this report is that this is not some ill prepared amateur caught out by weather he should have known about.

The skipper seems to be thoughtful, prudent and experienced; the boat appears well prepared.

What then are the lessons that can be learned?

In my opinion there are at least three. The first has already been noted which relates to the testing and registration of EPIRBs.

The second which I should like to raise is about survival techniques in extreme condtions. This crew's experience of the sea anchor holding up and keeping them safe for a number of hours before the main warp parts is a well documented "feature" of sea anchors under these conditions brought about by the repetitive snubbing to which the warp is subjected.

After the fatalities of the 1979 Fastnet Race a keen sailor and aeronautical engineer, Don Jordan carried out a whole load of research on why small boats get overwhelemed in seas like this and what if anything could be done about it. He was assisted by the US coastguard and from the research developed a product called the Jordon Series Drogue which is relatively easy to make and the design of which he has donated to public ownership. He did this because his objective was to save life not make money.

His practical work on the subject both in the test tanks and using Coastguard boats in breaking waves cuts through a lot of the old myths and has me convinced this is the way forwards.

I shall not be sailing without a drogue. In my opinion it performs two very useful functions.

1. It keeps the boat safe without active invovment from the crew once deployed.
2. It allows the crew to shelter below. This second point is very important as I often think that the effects of exhaustion and hypothermia cut in much quicker than is realised, particularly with a weak cruising crew (eg husband and wife)

The third lesson is, - and here I would like to quote Hal Roth, the veteran American Yachtsman, with many circumnavigations under his belt, who offered the opinion that

"In <u>sustained</u> wind speeds above 75 knots few small craft should expect to survive"

Chilled my bones when I first read it, chills them now when I think about it! The message of course is that no matter what precautions we take, there are some storms that will overwhlem us and our boats whatever we do.
 

ParaHandy

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you can go on and on about this .. chucking tyres, ropes, fridges, GOKW out the back of a boat; but the best advice is: don't go to sea unless in the QE2 and even that'd get a slapping in those winds. Those poor buggers had at best 12 hours to get out the way and they couldn't. The weather is getting very nasty very quickly out there ...
 
G

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Excuse me the QE2 had its bridge wing bend by a 100ft wave. I would prefer a submarine.
 

KellysEye

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What a dreadful thing to happen. One thing the skipper doesn't mention is having SSB and using a weather router. We were listening to Chris Parker and he was certainly predicting the storm and advised one boat in the area to turn west south west to avoid it. Don't know if Herb picked it up but I would have thought it was likely.
 

ParaHandy

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hmmm .. the storm was moving WSW-SW at about 10kn to begin with and then south at 15kn. Can't quite see what position a boat could be in for a router to recomend going WSW to avoid it .... !

they had iridium and i would imagine that they picked up the metarea4 forecast. AFAIK the first indication from NWS Ocean Prediction etc came at 1030UTC on Saturday 5th which would be abt early pm local time and they were first rolled 36 hrs later
 

KellysEye

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Oh dear maybe it wasn't WSW, there was a lot going on at the time. The key point though is that my recollection is that Chris was talking about the possible storm development some 4 or 5 days before. The issue then was not that it would form but what direction it would move. ISTR the model that first indicated a possible low was the Met Office's.

Either way I do wonder if they had at least listened to Chris (or Herb?) whether they would have had a chance to get out of the worst of it.
 

ParaHandy

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I think you're confusing the storm warning from the low at 39N 75W on the 2nd. This scuttled off to the E then NE at 35kn and was long gone by the 6th.

The wind was S 20kn at 1700UTC on the 6th and NNE 40kn 2hrs later - almost exactly the time they reversed course - and strengthened to 75kn NE 10hrs after that.

You may be right that someone somewhere saw this coming but I can't see any evidence of it.
 

KellysEye

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Ah, sorry, I assumed it had formed from the low at 39/75. There were obviously two systems and I doubt it would have been possible to see the second one coming. Wow! (Smack wrist, rule 1 - never assume).
 

ianabc

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Clarification please ...
Was this vessel using a parachute anchor, a drogue of heavy line with a weight , or a Jordan Series Drogue?
 

ranga

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Having an Iridium phone does allow the skipper to actually talk regularly with a weather expert, which in these extreme situations might have given a hint of what was coming (but not necessarily) compared to using grib files. I am lucky enough to have an old uni mate who as a meteorologist works for one of the weather companies that advises ships of what their optimum route is regards weather. On my recent ocean passages I would ring him twice a week to discuss weather and perhaps he could have said there was a possibility of such an event.

Maybe such a subscription service for ocean going yotties might be beneficial - if one does not exist already.
 

Bob

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[ QUOTE ]
Clarification please ...
Was this vessel using a parachute anchor, a drogue of heavy line with a weight , or a Jordan Series Drogue?

[/ QUOTE ]
The owner posted the log himself HERE so best to pose the question where he is likely to see it. He is very helpful and obliging.

I will ask him your question on the above thread so keep an eye on it for his reply and other discussion.
 

ParaHandy

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With that canard out the way, it might be possible to see what could have happened. They missed the GMDSS forecast on the 5th because they carried on to the NE toward the point 217m E of Hattras on the afternoon of the 6th when they turned back. Why they missed it could be for two reasons: either they weren't down loading the GMDSS text forecasts or they downloaded in the morning before the 1030UTC forecast was issued. The GRIB files they were receiving gave them no inkling of what lay ahead.

They left Green Cove early on the 2nd and it might have taken them to the afternoon to sail down St Johns river to the sea from where they averaged 150m per day. If they knew on the afternoon of the 5th what was coming, they could have turned away from the storm - whether a safe distance is another matter. If they had a router looking not just at gribs, they might have received a warning ..

Just as an aside to this, it seems as though USCG are considering stopping HF transmissions; their equipment is old and in need of replacement and other than a few yotties, everybody else is using inmarsat. They're asking for responses to this by August.
 

Bob

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[ QUOTE ]
Clarification please ...
Was this vessel using a parachute anchor, a drogue of heavy line with a weight , or a Jordan Series Drogue?

[/ QUOTE ]

He has now answered your question in some detail HERE

He is currently around most days now to field any questions.
 
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