My Sailing Adventure on the High Seas

By this time, you’ve probably heard that Katana, my new race boat, did not finish the 800 miles to Cabo San Lucas.

I took ownership of Katana one week before the start of the Newport Beach to Cabo race (which we won last year in all three categories).  The point of entering this race was twofold:  1) to qualify for TRANSPAC (“Trans-Pacific” – a race from Los Angeles to Hawaii) in July – my ultimate dream, and 2) to shake the boat down and get her perfectly ready for TRANSPAC.

Days before we started the race, we were concerned about the weather forecasts – high winds and high seas – which were unusual for the Cabo race at this time of year.  The night before the race, it seemed most ominous, but by morning, it seemed a bit less so.  We started the race prepared for bad weather, which was forecast to begin on Sunday, but the storm conditions moved in quickly.  The boat was handling the confused seas and high, gusty winds very well.  Our one big issue was the number of serious leaks filling the front of the boat with ankle high water (I didn’t know it in advance, but some of the seals had not been finished in time – ugh!).

One of our crew became seasick in spite of wearing the “patch,” and became incapacitated.  As the conditions worsened, as the skipper, I decided to turn the boat around and head back to San Diego.  My boat is 47 feet long, and a number of larger boats (up to 70 feet) had already turned around.  Some boats were damaged and turned around for safety reasons.  Even we blew out two downhauls (jib and main), but the boat was still seaworthy.  Since this was a test run for the boat, I saw no reason to risk the crew (we all wore life vests and were always tethered in while we were on deck).  Basically, this wasn’t fun, and the conditions were worsening, and I simply did not want to risk the welfare of my crew/friends.  They all have families and ultimately, I am responsible for everyone when aboard my boat.

When we turned around, we were now going downwind on crazy waves, and the boat was doing over 20 knots – that WAS fun!

We thought we were safe when we closed in on San Diego Harbor, but the nightmare was just beginning.  As we approached land, I told my crew that once we got her in a slip, we would button her up and clean her up in the morning.  It was going to be time for a hot dinner and hot shower and then a warm bed.  But it was not to be.

We dropped the main and tied her up.  The a squall hit us with ferocious winds.  We dropped the jib, and I tried to turn on the engine, but the propellers wouldn’t work.  We were now without power, and huge winds were pushing us into the rocks.  It was so ironic – after dealing with the open ocean, we were in dire trouble so close to safety. My boat captain, Kit Will, and tactician immediately got a small jib (foresail) up, so that we could have some steerage and for 1 1/2 hours, we made circles while my navigator and I tried to get the Coast Guard to help us as well as Vessel Assist.

Frankly, I was devastated to realize that the Coast Guard would not come out and help us (I guess their budget cuts call for coming out after disasters occur), and Vessel Assist was not readily available.  After my navigator had several calm discussions with the Coast Guard, I got on the phone and told them we were in deep trouble of losing the boat and the crew against the rocks and we needed help now!  Finally, a Coast Guard cutter came out at the same time as Vessel Assist arrived, and we were towed into the slip.  Remember, all of this was taking place during a squall.

The next morning, Kit, my boat captain, jumped into the frigid water to check out our propellers.  Unbelievable.  A two-cent length of fishing wire, complete with hook, was wrapped around the propeller!  That is all it took to put nine people and one boat in serious trouble.

When we finally made it to a hotel, it was 11PM, and all we could do was order pizzas from a local establishment that still delivered at that hour.  We were exhausted, soaked, and seriously tired.  We put away a lot of pizza, the guys had beer (delicate little me had a glass of wine), and boy, did we all ever sleep through the next morning.

It was the most challenging experience on the water for me so far.  My crew was amazing when it came to handling all the different types of situations that cropped up.  It took me most of the week to get my energy back, but now I’m ready for our next adventure: a race known as “The Border Run.:”

Thank you for all your good wishes and support.  If you have any questions, please go to DrLaura.com, sign up for the Dr. Laura Family, and email me.  I’ll do my best to answer.

The bottom line for a sailor?  We all came home safe.