JamesFor a few
months I've been having occasional contacts with a man named Peter Kinsey,
who, in the mid 'eighties, sailed his Cheoy Lee Vertue from Victoria, BC to
California (pitchpoled it on the way), then to the South Pacific, primarily Tonga and
Vava'u, for three years. He wrote an article on his trip which was published in
Latitude 48. He holds the copyright. (Peter is now in the sailing and boating
business out of the Northwest-- I think Vancouver. He runs occasional charters out
of Vava'u on a 50-foot steel boat which was designed by J. Laurent Giles Co.
(who designed the Vertue) and which he describes as "a real
He REALLY likes Vertues. He says that if you would like,
you can put his article on your web page...
I have attached the article written about a Force 11 storm which he sailed through off the
Washington coast in his Cheoy Lee Vertue, Kainui. Though no dates were given in the
article, I believe the episode occurred in the early 1980's.
Peter originally published the article in Latitude 48, but indicated that he retains
rights, and that it may be put on the web page....
and Peter for sharing this with the group. james...
As I write these words I am two hundred
miles offshore, northeast bound for my landfall at Cape Beale at the mouth of the Juan de
Fuca Strait. Today is the twenty-fifth day of my single-handed passage aboard my
twenty-five foot Vertue class sloop Kainui, from Honolulu to Victoria. This passage
concludes a four and a half year, 13,000 mile return voyage to the South Pacific.
This morning I picked up on the AM radio CKDA
Victoria. I have been monitoring the weather reports of wind and sea conditions in the
Juan de Fuca at the close of Swiftsure race. It is indeed comforting to hear the frivolous
chatter of my home port radio station, particularly now. I have taken a beating these last
few days and am feeling quite thrashed: a survivor re-emerging form the wasteland.
The gash on my forehead is healing now, although an
egg-size lump still remains. The fingers of my frostbitten hands are numb, particularly my
right, tiller hand. I have managed to patch together the self-steering and it is
functioning now, held together with two C-clamps, two vise grips, and some wire. I am
steering a course by a French hand-bearing compass. The main compass was ruined, the glass
stove in during the knockdown I encountered in a force 11 storm four days ago.
At least I am not constantly shivering in wet
clothes anymore. The sun has shone during the last two days and as well as warming me up
it has enabled me to dry things out a bit. However, every corner of the cabin and every
object therein remains covered with a slippery thin film of vegetable oil, which was
released from a plastic bottle that became airborne at the moment the boat rolled over.
This passage seems to have developed into a rather desperate lesson in Heavy Weather
Prior to this passage, during all my travels, I have
encountered only two gales while at sea. Having no instruments to calibrate wind speed, I
can offer the reader no precise figures. The first gale was during my first offshore
passage from Neah Bay to San Francisco. Off Crescent City a gale blew up from the south. I
turned and ran before the wind all night. My presence was not required in the cockpit. The
self-steering did all the work, steering the boat hour after hour, hard-driven before the
wind, under bare pole. I well remember that night, looking astern at row after row of
foaming phosphorescent whitehorses advancing towards me in the inky darkness. During this
gale three local fishing boats were lost with all hands.
The second gale was in the South Pacific, north of
Samoa and southeast of the Phoenix group. This time I hove to with the trysail clew
fastened to the windward quarter cleat and the tiller lashed down. Running would have
meant threading my way through the Phoenix Islands at night - a fearful prospect.
Heaving-to worked admirably, but I did take some heavy thuds as seas crashed over the boat
and the noise was a bit unnerving.
As well as the above, I rode out two very severe
storms at anchor during the several years I spent in the Vava'u group of the Tongan
Islands. The second of these storms was Hurricane Isaac. Out of over 22 boats sheltering
there during the hurricane season, only a handful of boats were floating after the storm
had passed. Kainui was one of them.
I have always been a little skeptical of other
mariners' "heavy weather" stories. Most people, myself included, get frightened
and excited in really severe weather at sea. In retrospect, memories are magnified, just
like the angler who over-emphasizes the size of the huge one that got away. I was
convinced that monstrously large breaking seas,
which could threaten and physically overwhelm a small yacht could only be experienced in
certain conditions: where strong currents conflict with very strong opposing winds, or in
the regions of the southern ocean where the waves circle the globe unceasingly and
undisturbed by any land mass. I recently discovered that this assumption was wrong. In the
following description of my recent experiences I attempt to be accurate, objective and to
avoid such magnification.
Four days ago at 45 degrees North and 136 degrees
West I encountered a Force 11 storm. The Beaufort Scale describes force 11 as a violent
storm with wind speeds of 56-63 knots (67-76 mph) and seas 35 feet high. There were in
fact sustained gusts of wind at much higher velocities. The surface of the sea in a Force
11 storm is described as having exceptionally high waves, and these waves are covered in
foam. This is an accurate if not slightly understated description of what I experienced.
I approached the onset of the storm with a rather
cocksure attitude as "just another damn gale." Anger had replaced that usual
little twinge of anxiety in my bowels. WWV was reporting it with a radius of 600 miles,
twice that of the previous four gales I had already experienced so far in this passage. At
35 knots, it was moving 10 knots faster than any of these previous gales. The eye of the
storm, as it turned out, passed directly over me.
As the storm intensified, the Hasler self-steering
did an admirable job as always. During this time the deck was stripped. All sail was
bagged and below decks. The main was lashed to the boom. At first it was your standard
storm scenario: the crashing thud of waves striking the hull, the high-pitched screaming
in the rigging, the approaching whooshing of combers racing past, water intermittently
hydraulicing in between the hatch boards.
The first indication that things were getting a
little out of hand was when the boat broached, suddenly and unexpectedly lurching over on
one side. I was below decks at the moment, climbing out of my survival suit and getting
some rest in my bunk. After the boat righted herself, I quickly zipped myself back into
the suit and peeked out of the hatch. The Hasler picked up the boat as the wave passed and
off we were driven at hull speed again. I put my wet weather gear over my survival suit,
ready to go on deck.
At this point I was getting scared,
and quickly clambered out on deck, slipping in the hatch boards after me. I crouched down
low, vainly trying to protect my face and neck from the salt spray and wind pummeling
as if from a high-pressure hose. I secured both harness and safety lines. Then I heard in
the distance the wave approaching that broached us again. Violently over on one side the
boat went. From windward a deluge of water swept over me. The wave passed and up we popped
again. Wind gripped the
rigging and Kainui shot off again, surfing wildly on
A glance around revealed the damage. The
nylon-reinforced plastic leeboards had ripped their stainless eye-fasteners and screws
bodily right out of the teak bulwark, leaving gaping splintered craters in the solid wood.
Aft, the wind vane was split almost in two pieces. I disengaged the worm gear on the vane
with a tug on the line and began steering, hunkering down and checking again the two
safety lines of my harness where they were secured to cleats on each side of the cockpit.
I could see almost nothing, only a vague shadow of the silhouette of each approaching
wave. Squinting through the salt water stinging my eyes, I attempted to line the stern up
perpendicular to each successive silhouette. I also used as a guide the flag flogging in
the wind - a British Ensign, already ripped half-away from its bolt rope. This required
The hull was surfing on almost every wave now, and
any minor movement of the tiller would effect a large misalignment of the hull in the
wind, which would take precious seconds to correct. Another half hour or two hour passed;
I don't know - every minute was like an hour. I was freezing. My insulated seaboots were
full of water. Water had gotten inside my survival suit. I was shivering uncontrollably.
My fingers and toes were numb. My legs were cramped. I wiggled my toes constantly and
periodically adjusted the position of my legs.
Gusts of wind above the steady onslaught scoured and
flayed the broken and foam-covered surface of the sea. Later, when daybreak came, I was
able to look down from the crests onto the enormous valleys between each racing hill of
water. Near the flailed crest of each wave there were many racing combers. As they raced
past my already hard-driven little yacht, they presented themselves time after time as
seemingly vertical walls of water ten feet or more above the stern, crumbling in a fury of
foam at the crest. The stern lifted to a dizzying angle with each successive wave.
And then it happened. One wave, a particularly sheer
wall of water, reared up above and astern. As the stern lifted to a near vertical angle
the wave broke and cascaded over the entire cockpit. It happened very quickly. All I
remember is the tiller going loose in my grip as the hull passed completely out of the
water onto the backside of this wave. A cascading tumult of green water struck my back. I
glimpsed down at the now downward-sloping, partially upside-down cockpit coaming. This was
a moment that filled me with shock, horror and awe all at once, that endured only as long
as it took to shudder from the cold water engulfing me. Then as she righted herself the
tiller suddenly came alive in my grip. Off the boat went again, wildly driven. Still
gasping from the shock of the cold water, I glued my eyes astern to negotiate whatever was
next. I cautioned a split second glance up behind me to look at the rig, and miraculously
it was still there. I remember finding these words whispered on my lips: "I'm O.K.,
the mast is still there."
I looked around. Only splinters were left of what
was once a wind vane. The dodgers were swept away, the urinal bucket gone. The Walker's
log was over the side, knocked off its taffrail mounting but still secured to the boat by
its safety line. Blood from a gash on my forehead was all over my face. I became aware of
this injury only by the taste of blood on my lips. The cold numbed all. After a few
moments I chanced a quick look below to assure myself that: a) the oil lamps had not upset
and started a fire, b) water wasn't rising above the floorboards.
My mind was reeling. What in God's name was I going
to do? I needed rope, anchors, anything to trail astern. These were below, and I couldn't
release the tiller for more than a second or two. In a futile act of panic, I cast all the
loose main and foresail sheets over the side. Before I had completed this task I saw it
for the hopeless gesture it was. The hull speed of my five ton yacht is six knots, and at
that moment these five tons were hurling before the wind at a speed well above that.
It was in the next half hour that I discovered how
to maneuver Kainui on those monstrous seas. It was obvious that I must not again
permit further loss of steerage by allowing the rudder to pass into free air on the back
side of a wave. This was the crucial moment of either losing or maintaining control in the
passing of each potentially destructive wave.
It was not long before I found Kainui again
under the crest of a particularly sheer wall of water that was beginning to catapult the
hull forward. When I felt this momentum under me, just at that second when, in passing,
the crest plundered down on the cockpit all around me, I thrust the tiller hard over. The
boat then slewed over onto the flat surface of bow section. The rudder remained under
water and at the same time the forward momentum diminished like applying a brake.
Furthermore, as the hull reeled over onto one side, I just as firmly pulled the tiller
back the other way. This dual motion effectively slowed the boat. The wave quickly passed
on. Kainui found herself slipping down the backside of the wave, quickly picking up speed
again as the wind caught her rigging.
After the first few attempts at this maneuver I
thought I had only been lucky. As wave after wave passed, I tried to remember the Lord's
Prayer, reciting what snatches I could remember. A desperate sadness overcame me, faced as
I was with the very real possibility of never seeing my wife's and son's smiling faces
Many waves with steeper and more threatening faces
than the one that knocked Kainui over came rushing past. Each time however, this
newfound technique proved successful. After a while a sort of fanatical glee overcame me
when I realized I would definitely survive. I was still shivering and my hand was like a
numb claw on the tiller, but all storms pass, as this one would. A warm feeling of gained
knowledge and success overcame me. But these uplifting emotions soon subsided as I
pondered the splinters left on my vane, and the 400 miles of ocean left to cross.
Sub note to
Hi James & Cilla,
I happened on your site when in a fit of nostalgia I typed
"VERTUE" into a search engine. I owned SN 106, Kainui, for a
number of years -- I bought her, in fact, from Peter Kinsey soon after
he was hit by the storm he describes in the article you have posted on
Kainui and I sailed from Juneau, Alaska in 1985 and completed a four
year, 37,000 mile circumnavigation. When I left Juneau, I had sailed
all of two weekends and hadn't a clue what I was doing; I was,
however, in good hands -- Kainui's -- and she never let me down. In
the trades our noon to noons averaged 130 miles, her best day was 154
(she did not have an inboard and so had no prop to drag). She was a
bit slow to weather but she could take a beating that would have
pounded other boats to bits.
Kainui was Cheoy Lee built in 1960 and the yard did a fine job -- my
only complaints were the iron floors fastened with copper rivets which
caused some galvanic rot in the ribs and her chain plates, which were
doubled 1/4" mild steel . They had completely rotted out when I
reached Australia -- scraping off the rust scale with a chisel one
day, I poked a hole clean thru the port plate. I replaced them with
5/16" stainless steel plates that were mounted on the exterior of
I sold her in 1992 and her new owner has rebuilt her from the hull up.
He and his sweetie hope to take her off shore sometime in the next few
PS I have an Alaskan friend who bought a glass Vertue, sailed it
across the Atlantic, trucked it across Mexico and off California was
knocked down in a gale -- he lost his rig and the boat's water tanks
(they were glassed into the hull) ripped out and he lost all his fresh
water. He was three days drifting and considerably thirsty when a
passing freighter lifted him and his boat on deck.
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