Post Row. Santa Cruz to Waikiki
By Angela Madsen 06/18/13
At sea from 5:45 PM June 9 till 3:45 AM on June 17.Rowed a total of 172 miles
The row was scheduled to begin at noon but was delayed till June 9th at 5:45PM due to weather and high surf caused by a low pressure system which was on its way out. New weather reports and forecasts looked promising all the way through June 20. I made my way out of the Santa Cruz channel at 5:45 PM with only mild onshore NW winds and a relatively flat sea. When describing wind they use the direction it is blowing from so NW winds flow SE.
I saw my first dolphin in the first hour as the sun was setting. The seas and winds remained calm through the night and the sky was clear enough to see many stars. I rowed all through the night making about 26 miles and rowed through the morning. The winds had begun to pick up so I put out my parachute anchor at 1 pm to take a 2 hour nap. Sleep did not come in this rest period, partly me just being so excited and partly because the boat wasn’t setting well. I exited the cabin to the sounds of sea lions playing which was all good till I saw what they were playing with. They had collapsed my para anchor and were playing ball with the buoy I had attached to the rig. They saw me come out of the cabin and stopped first looking at each other, then at me and then at each other again like mischievous children. That would completely explain the oddities of the behavior of my boat on sea anchor that first time. I retrieved my para anchor and continued rowing increasing my distance from land and making the most miles west I would see the entire row.
As the sun was setting another low pressure system was moving in producing increases in NW winds and in the size of the waves. It was as if the opportunity of good weather to begin my row was like the eye of the storm. I placed my sea anchor out when it became un row-able and thought about the day’s events and all of the marine life I had seen in just one day of rowing. It began with the sea lions and a killer whale charging toward my boat a short time later followed by many dolphins. Then as I was rowing a Blue whale and her calf surfaced right beside my boat. I had to pull in my oar to avoid contact. They left me and headed in closer to shore possibly to avoid the killer whales. Orcas like to go after the whale calves. I saw some interesting looking jellyfish floating by and thought about Diane Nyad who swims oceans and has encounters with jelly fish and I was visited by 3 black tip sharks. Only the killer whales exhibited aggressive behavior. I had seen 2 killer whales on the GB row that exhibited the same behavior. They charge toward the boat at rates of speed capable of pulling a water skier with their huge dorsal fins broaching the surface the entire time. They get just up to the boat like they will ram you and then disappear.
The NOAA weather channel on the VHF radio described this new low pressure system and small craft and high wind and sea advisories. I set my sleep alarm for 2 hours so I could check for ship traffic knowing there was little chance I would be rowing again anytime soon. I checked traffic every two hours through the night and as promised the NW winds had reached 25 kts with 33-39 kt gusts. The seas were at about 15 ft with an additional 4-5 foot wind swell so sets topped off about 20-25 ft. I remained on sea anchor all day and another night. Checking the lines first light I noticed that the anchor bridal lines had chafed and broken and the only line holding my sea anchor on was the one retrieval line I had put on as an assistive device to help bring the bridal thimble or anchor line attachment point back to the boat. The retrieval line which runs all the way out to the parachute anchor had come undone. Guessing those playful sea lions had broken the bite on my Bolin knot and it came undone during the night. I had no way to collapse and retrieve my parachute anchor to repair the anchor line fixation points. This was serious as I was about to lose my 9 foot diameter parachute anchor which is an extremely important piece of storm kit.
I also brought a 6 ft diameter anchor with a much shorter line as a backup. I managed to get about 170 foot of line back in the boat and parachute within 15 foot of my boat but could get it no closer. I then took the small anchor and connected it to the rear of my boat deploying it with 50 ft of line. As it opened it swung my boat around to a point where I could reach the other anchor. I had successfully rescued my anchor but sacrificed the smaller less important one as I did not have time to place a retrieval line on it when I deployed it. Pulling a fully laden 1200 pound boat up to a 6 diameter parachute anchor in 25-30 mph winds would be easier than the larger diameter para anchor but I figured I would solve that problem later. The boat was riding ok on the smaller one for the time being. It did get calm enough for me to row again and I figured out how to collapse the chute by sending a carabineer down the anchor line that was bigger than the swivel shackle. It went over the connectors and worked its way down collapsing the chute. Then it came in easy. I had managed to save both anchors. In the process I had injured my right knee. It locked up and has swollen and will not straighten. It never got calm enough for me to repair the bridal or for me to crawl out onto the bow and make a connection with the bow tow eye located at the front of the boat. My thought was If I had too, in an emergency, I could use the one located at the rear as I could connect it from my cabin by accessing it through the hatch and that I could make these repairs as well as doing my personal admin and laundry when I got some better conditions at sea.
For all of my rowing, in the conditions I could make no west but could only go south. I expected to go a bit south and more SW and almost do a course that resembled a Nike swoosh but it was not to be. I had to take the foot stretchers out because of my knee and try to secure myself while rowing with my other leg. I looked at the course and how I could only go SE in these conditions, took into consideration my knee injury and my distance from land. I was 80.7 miles from land. I decided to Row to Los Angeles and reschedule the Hawaii row. I changed my course and was rowing SE. I did not know about the new forecast at this time. The seas once again were getting bigger and the winds were just howling. I looked at my last 2 hours rowing and had noticed I had gone more west while rowing SE. maybe current running west? Could I possibly make it to Hawaii if I now could somehow go west or had I gone too far south? What is the weather forecast? I turned on the VHF and listened to the forecasts of Gale Force winds for my location and heavy seas. This basically means conditions twice as big and bad as what I had been battling for the previous 5 days for the next 5 days. There is no question now, only the realization that I can neither row to Hawaii or LA in what is coming my way and staying on the boat will jeopardize myself or anyone who may have to be involved in a last minute rescue. I called the coast guard to apprise them of my situation and ask for their recommendation and then we coordinated rescue from that point forward.
A container ship MOT Mission was in my area and dispatched to pick me up. When the ship arrived they determined that they could not dispatch their little boat in the conditions and that they would attempt a direct pick up from the side bay door 15 ft up on the container ship and that this would occur while container ship was underway. He instructed me to get up on deck and I was in process of exiting the cabin when the massive container ship did a drive by along my port side while throwing life rings and lowering a basket while yelling jump JUMP. I could not jump and my bum knee that kept me half in the cabin and not on the deck in time to try to jump probably saved my life. The sounds of the voices yelling jump were no longer audible as the sounds of my antenna, navigation light and the side and top of my boat scraping along the hull of this huge vessel as it is being sucked underneath its hull at the stern was all I could here. I am looking up at the hull of the ship atop my little boat and across to the propeller and I get back in my cabin closing the hatch door to ride out what was coming next. Propeller wash. I was sucked up, run over by a container ship and spit out the back. Foamy and turbulent the water glowed a sea foam greenish color that seemed to give off its own amazing light. After the turbulent ride, darkness had settled and with no daylight left the giant spotlights on the ship were turned on and they were panning the sea looking for me. They contacted me on the radio about making another pass. After being at sea 7 days and battling bad weather for the last 5 while I was out on the deck waiting, hanging on, getting slammed by 54 degree water waves in 55 degree outside temps I thought about what I had just gone through and went back into my cabin. I hailed the ship on the radio and waved him off of any further rescue attempts. Anyone in my position would not have been physically capable of what was required. The ship’s Captain wanted to rescue me as much as I wanted to row to Hawaii so he was not happy to leave me in my little boat but I thought it best and I stuck to my guns. I thanked him for his time and effort and told both he and the coast guard that I was going to warm up, go to sleep and assess my situation further in the morning. I was going to sleep on it. At about 2:45 AM the Coast Guard called me and told me they would have a helicopter to my location in about an hour. They arrived and rescue swimmer was deployed. I made sure to leave the Sea me and navigation light on the Spirit of Orlando to aide in recovery of the boat. The swimmer got back in the water first then I joined him the water. He swam us over to the basket, he placed me in the basket and I was raised up into the Helicopter. It was a text book Sea rescue. I phoned Deb and told her I would be at the Santa Barbara Airport where she met me with some dry cloths and my wheelchair. We spent the rest of the day on the drive back stopping at vessel assist in Ventura who told us it would be impossible to go out and get the boat in the weather that was coming and know way to know where to look after the blow. We stopped at military installations and ports and harbors asking them to look out and contact us if they spot the boat. We are on standby to recover the boat, once recovered, I will reschedule the row.
Spirit of Orlando..Missing at Sea
Call 562-505-4157 with Lat and Long last spotted at