Ken Barnes description of situation
How it happened, in Kens words...
I think by this time most people know that if I were to give my current lat. and long. It would be a lot further north than expected. Yes, my trip is over and ended much differently than anticipated. On Jan. 2nd the boat was rolled at around 3pm. I lost my masts, dodger, arch and most everything above decks. My location at the time was lat 54.44 long. 86. I was sailing in 35-45 kt winds on my starboard quarter on a course just south of east with the center of the low pressure system to my southwest and still aways away. The swells were averaging 20-25 feet and coming from 3 different directions but primarily from the northwest.
It has been brought to my attention that in a early radio report I stated that I had my mizzen sail up but If that is what I said It was a misstatement on my part and I apologize for the confusion that I caused by that statement. If I had been running with the mizzen up in those conditions all the negative reaction would definitely be warranted but that was not the case. I was running with only my staysail up. The main and mizzen had been taken down and secured several hours prior to the rollover. My speed was 4-6 kts. And I was trying to get through what I saw by the weather faxes as the last low I would have to face before rounding Cape Horn.
Because I was not In what I considered to be extreme conditions, which I would define as exceeding hull speed with no sail up, or even close to it, I wasn’t thinking of defensive positions yet, such an steaming a drogue and lying a hull. I was below decks at the time of the roll and can only make assumptions of what actually took place at that time based on what I had seen happening before the roll. The boat was rounded up in a gust of wind and before the autopilot could correct a breaking wave caught me broadside. Individually the wind strength, wave or angle to the sea would not have caused a rollover but all 3 together produced that result.
My first impression when the roll occurred was of water rushing in through one of the ports on the lee side. These were approximately 12x8 inch opening side ports that were thoroughly dogged down. My immediate next impression was of light and water entering the main salon. I did not even feel the roll when it occurred or notice the damage that took place inside the boat when it happened. The very first thing I did was go to the source of light and water and see what the cause of it was. I made my way to the main salon and looked up to see no hatch where one was supposed to be. . Standing on a seat I expected to see the hatch completely gone. What I saw was worse than I expected. The rig was gone and with it everything else above decks. The hatch cover was still attached but the locking mechanisms were broken off and I had no way to secure it. The next thing I did was go back to the galley area and secure the port that had opened. I then went out the companionway to the cockpit to further asses the damage. And deploy the drogue.
The steering wheel was completely bent over the deckhouse and steering the boat was not possible also the shift lever was broken off. My thinking went along these lines. The worst of the low is still on its way and I can’t steer the boat. I can’t even take the wheel off because the dodger was collapsed over the wheel and would have to be unbolted and sorted out first. Going back below I started to asses the damage there. The first thing I noticed was the floorboards that secured one of the battery banks had been broken through and that battery bank was scattered and useless. I switched to the other bank and the breaker panel shorted out. Having 120 pounds of propane on board and not knowing if any of the propane supply lines had been compromised in the rollover I did not think it wise to pursue attempting to restore power to the autopilot at that time.
What I was faced with was a boat that had a 2 foot opening in the hull on deck that could not be immediately secured and no way to steer the boat and these were only the obvious problems also did not know how the boat would ride on the drogue. My concern was that the boat would yaw from side to side and get in a position to be rolled again. If that happened I would be in a much worse position than I was in already. The water level inside the boat was up a few inches past the floorboards and I could not immediately see if it was getting worse due to the motion of the boat. All of these things took place in about 2 minutes. I had to make a quick decision about the next step. Whether to ride out the worst of the storm which was still approaching and hope the boat didn’t roll again, because if it did I was probably going into the life raft in very cold water for what turned out to be over 2 days or to activate the EPIRB and set in motion a series of events that would bring others into my predicament. I can only say that I hope you are never faced with that decision; it was not one that I took lightly. My decision was to activate the beacon.
The next thing I did was to make a sat phone call to assure my girlfriend I was currently ok and to alert the coast guard because even though the EPIRB has a blinking light there is no two way communication and I wanted to be sure the signal was getting out of the steel hull. My time next was mostly spent preparing myself and the boat the best I could for a worst case situation. I put on my survival suit, prepared the life raft for deployment and got a few things tied together in the event of another rollover. After awhile I went back up on deck in the storm to make a call and try to get an idea of when, and in what form, helicopter or boat, help would arrive, also what, if anything, I could do to affect an easier rescue. That’s about the time I noticed the plane circling overhead. I put down the sat. phone and got the handheld VHF to contact the plane. It was a very brief conversation as I don’t speak Spanish and the person I spoke to did not speak English. I watched as they flew away.
The storm was raging. I made the phone call and found out the plane had been there awhile I just hadn’t seen it or heard it over the storm. The rescue was to happen in about 15 hours. I spent several of those hours sitting on the companionway ladder with the EPIRB in one hand to try to make sure the signal was getting out and a flashlight in the other trying to assist anyone in finding me if it wasn’t since it was now dark and there were no other lights available to illuminate my position. 15 hours later I called to find out things were delayed and to expect help now in about 12 more hours. I could not leave my sat. phone on because I would run the battery down and I had no way to recharge it. There was no indication from the weather fax of the intensity of the storm that the rescue vessel was in and I had no idea in what form or direction rescue would be coming from. Approximately 55 hours later the lights of the POLAR PESCA 1 appeared on the horizon at 3am.
I had already made the decision to scuttle the boat. My investment in the attempt was well over $250,000. I estimated the cost of repairing the damage to the boat in excess of $100,000. My wallet was empty and the time available to sail her back home would soon be limited as I would have to return to some sort of work in the near future. I was not about to leave her floating to endanger anyone else. The decision was not easy however it was clear what the correct course of action was.
As the POLAR PESCA 1”s crew loaded the last of my 4 bags into the inflatable I went below one last time. Over the last few years this boat and I had developed a relationship. I new her intimately. I had been through every possible space aboard time after time painting, restoring, running wire, cleaning, improving, updating, replacing and constantly inspecting her for any possible weakness. She was repeat with redundancy. Spare parts were available for most items aboard and carefully packed away, never used. I had spent more time with this inanimate piece of steel than I had with my family over the last few years and I felt she was alive and ready to pursue the purpose of her original owners dream to sail the world. She wouldn’t die by herself. I had to intentionally bring her down. I walked forward carefully stepping over the broken floorboards that I had removed so many times to replace old batteries and run new wire many, many times.
Forward, down the steps under which lay the water pump I had replaced. Past the new cushions which were now just twisted foam soaked in diesel and salt water sitting on the cabin sole alongside several months’ worth of food supplies in complete disarray. Past the tools scattered around the boat that were purchased in Georgia for the work of decommissioning her for her trip to California and used countless times over the years in seemingly endless upgrades and repairs. Into the head that had been completely rebuilt and replumbed from the holding tank all the way to the thru hulls.
I reached into my pocket and retrieved a knife that would accomplish one final duty on this, her last day and cut thru her new plumbing well below the waterline. Opening 2 of her five new thru hulls I stood and watched briefly as water started to flood into her. I turned and walked away pausing briefly in the salon to run my hand over the grab rails that had provided me with so much security on this attempt as she battled her way thru seas and winds few have the opportunity to confront. The crew sent to retrieve me sat silently in the dingy as they watched me put the boards in and slide the hatch shut one last time. These were men of the sea and no words were spoken as we motored back to the fishing boat that would return me to the world, they new what I had done and left me to my own thoughts.
As a final epilogue it should be noted that for this attempt the cost of insurance was prohibitive and thus the boat was not covered by insurance in any way and was obviously a total loss. I learned much on this attempt. As with anything new there are things I did right and things I did that were wrong. My biggest regret was involving others in my attempt at a personal goal. I don’t know that the attempt will be made again even with the expeirience I have gained. I was “all in” on this attempt and left nothing on the table. The costs in time, money and emotion were very great. To gather those resources again will take a lot of energy and who knows what tomorrow will bring a new adventure may be on the horizon. I want to thank all of you who wished me well and prayed for my safe return, it was and is deeply felt. Go ahead and LIVE your life. To simply exsist sucks. Ken