A voyaging sailboat recovered
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in the September 2018 Seven Seas Cruising Association Commodore’s Bulletin.
On June 17, 2018, aboard our Omega 45, Kelaerin, just 150 miles from completing a circumnavigation that had gone over 17 years, a storm overtook us. (See page 10 of the August 2018 SSCA Bulletin for the complete story.) We sailed with the storm, eventually going downwind and away from our destination. As I reported before, we decided to activate the EPIRB as we could not clear the water out of the boat and we had lost all communications. We had hoped to get another pump from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) when they arrived and continue to try and dewater the boat; however, when the USCG swimmer came aboard and assessed the situation with Jim, they decided to abandon Kelaerin.
It was a horrible decision, one that was very hard to make. Kelaerin has been our home for the better part of the 27 years we owned her. She was a labor of love as we kept up the maintenance at all times as well as the aesthetic appearance as best we could. When we were in the helicopter, heading away, we could see her through the window, all alone, with another wave overtaking her now that no one was at the helm. Jim was in a daze, with bandages wrapped around his head and blood all over his face and clothes. I kept shaking my head, not believing we had just jumped into the ocean and been taken away from our boat — thinking, “We should not have gotten off, we shouldn’t have left her.” I was shaking from the cold and wrapped in a big blanket the Coasties provided. At times I had to restrain myself from asking the Coasties to turn around and take us back, knowing that was, of course, impossible.
For the next month, Jim and I mourned the loss of our beautiful sailboat. It represented not only our home, but a ton of memories from the years traveling the world. Our belongings on board were most of what we owned and the loss of the boat significantly impacted our retirement future financially. It was hard for both of us to take. We felt like we had a big hole in our lives and in our hearts. We both relived the moment the wave made impact as we jumped at loud sudden noises and didn’t sleep well.
As we could not imagine a life without a boat, we began looking at other boats, but it soon became apparent our hearts were just not in it.
Then Jim and I both started thinking that perhaps Kelaerin would be found and we could begin to repair her and get ready to sail again. We discussed what would most likely be the extent of damage and what we would have to take care of first. We had checked the weather patterns daily, surmising Kelaerin would have probably drifted southeast with the currents. Everyone had an opinion, of course, with some people telling us she would have gone north, and others saying she was on her way to Hawaii. We made plans to go down the Oregon coast and stop at harbors, talking with USCG stations and fishermen to see if she had been sighted. Then, in the late evening of July 22, we got a call from the USCG station in Eureka. I sat in shock as the officer told us the USCG cutter Barracuda had found her while on routine patrol 44 miles off the Northern California coast and was towing her in to Fort Bragg, Calif.
We pulled up stakes the next morning and drove down to Fort Bragg. From first appearances, we could see the damage was extensive; however, she was structurally sound. The interior was absolute chaos from the violent turnover. Lots of broken doors, standing water up to the bilge hatches, a real mess to clean up, plus nearly every system had to be fixed or replaced. But, with that, we have set about the repairs that will take quite awhile. First order is to get the engine running, as we can’t stay long here in Fort Bragg. The slips are all spoken for, so we may take her to the San Francisco Bay area, as it is closest and has infinite possibilities for getting repairs done.
We are so happy to have her back, no matter what. We are very grateful to the USCG for their vigilance and everything they have done to help us. They are an awesome organization.