Let me start this off by giving thanks to the men and women of the United States Coast Guard and the Captain and Crew of the MV Heijin. It can never be said enough.
Just Another Sunrise
It was the last half hour or so of Adam’s and my 4-hour rowing shift. Dawn was breaking on our 73rd day at sea. Winds and waves were building and we were making just around 3kn towards Miami. At shift changed we discussed the building seas and the possibility of the sea anchor being deployed despite the favorable speeds west. Markus climbed out and hopped on the bucket, he would soon be literally caught with his pants down, while Jordan took over steering in the bow seat. Adam was tucked inside the hatch as I folded myself inside. Our last words of the discussion to the boys on deck were literally “remember think safety first”. As I reached to pull the hatch door closed the boat lurched sickeningly to starboard. In an instant the loud crash of a wave on deck was followed by a massive amount of water rushing into the cabin. There was no way I could over come the force of water to close the door. In a last ditch effort I threw my body to port in an attempt to keep the boat from rolling. Obviously my now wirey 165lb frame was no match for the 100’s of gallons of water that was flooding the cabin. The scenarios we had played out in our heads through months and years of preparation and training had it happening much slower, but it was done in an instant. The boat rolled.
Battle Stations Everyone
Great, now we’re upside down AND underwater in what was already a less than comfortable living quarters/science lab/film studio/office. You’d imagine nightmarish terror . Some sort of horror movie with water slowly filling a closed chamber as the occupants looked on panic stricken clawing for last breaths. In actuality it seemed much more basic. I’m underwater and inside, Adam is pushing me from behind, just swim to the door. Once out things stayed pretty simple, grab the life line on the boat, feel for the PFD by the door which was now huge and inflated, get to the surface. It happened in seconds, all four of us were bobbing next to our glorified life raft of a home. Beacons? Yes! No conversation– this was serious, it wasn’t going to be a simple re right procedure and row on. 4 beacons? Yep 4 was better than 1. Without much talk everyone was in action. Jordan went for the life raft still strapped to deck. Markus freed the rest of the PFD’s, that were now inflated, strapped to the lifeline. A BIG thank you to Mustang Survival. Never wanted to use them but damned if they weren’t ready for action when we needed them. Adam was grabbing the first of any items to float away from the boat. I sat atop the overturned JRH and acted as lifeguard, keeping a constant count of 1,2,3 going on as crewmates dove below to grab gear and resurfaced. With loaded arms Adam made his way to the life raft and sat aboard, legs hanging overboard, donning Jordan’s leather cowboy hat and looking like a giant lounging in a kiddy pool on a hot day.
“All Hail to the….”
An hour had passed and the life raft had been deployed, tied off to the bow of the JRH with a 30ft line, and filled with the grab bag and any other supplies we could grab from on deck. If we could re right the boat it would be easier to get to more equipment, possibly pump out and salvage the stern cabin, and we’d have a much more comfortable place to sit and make tea while we waited to make contact with the outside world. With the oars secured to the stern we began to problem solve how to get the round side down of a 2500lb boat filled with another 1000+lb’s of seawater. Starting with rocking we quickly advanced to a system of ropes with loops for Markus, Jordan, and myself to pull on while Adam (our big boy) leaned against the daggerboard (the fin of the boat) that was currently pointed skyward. As the effort rose so did our spirits. At one point we were singing
“All Hail to the James Robert Hanssen,
She rows from sea to sea to sea to sea!,
All Hail to the James Robert Hanssen,
It’s a rowers life it’s a rowers life for me!”
The gunwale tipped skywards and was past perpendicular to the ocean surface. But wouldn’t right. It was our closest attempt. As we slipped and slid off the hull we checked to make sure everyone was alright. Then laughed at how ridiculous their fall had looked.
Tune in for Just Another Sunrise part 2