Updated: Dec 10, 2020
A sea story, if you will! Before you read this Avy adventure, please remove all children and Sir Chadwick's mother from the room! The all rock star crew of Sir Chadwick, Lady Lauren, Brian the DOD guy, and the captain arrived on North Island, New Zealand in early August, the Southern Hemisphere's mid winter.
Life had become pretty exciting for the team since we arrived in Opua! United Airlines decided it would be great marketing to always fly the captain gratis and in first class, my sister bought a jet for the crew so it's much less torture for the team to join Avy in the far corners of the world, and NZed television did a special on the brave American sailors who were trying to sail around the globe! We met a pretty Maori girl named "T" and her sister who invited us to hear them sing in a Maori bar the night before we left. The Maori folks that filled the bar were as friendly as can be. The two sisters even dedicated a Dixie Chicks song to the departing Colorado sailors, "Cowboy Take Me Away"! That set off a drunken standing ovation with plenty of hand shakes, good lucks, and slaps on our backs! Despite local wisdom, our plan for the 3,000 plus mile NZed to French Polynesia passage was to drop down into the Southern Ocean to catch the west winds that always blow and ride the winds east enough to head up to the warmer climate surrounding Tahiti. One of my biggest fears in my last life as a business guy was to die at my desk before ever seeing and sailing the great Southern Ocean that circles Antarctica! As soon as we cleared the Bay of Islands, as advertised, the cold west wind started to blow and the waves grew to the size of buildings. But they were following seas and the intrepid yacht Avalanche loves to surf giant waves. For 2 & 1/2 days the topic of conversation among the crew kept returning to how much more fun surfing monsters was compared to going to work! The Nantucket sleigh ride was so thrilling that it was impossible to convince the crew to go off watch and get some rest! I didn't want to spoil the crew's glee but I kept thinking that the Southern Ocean was like a very angry woman who possessed a horrible sucker punch and a devastating body slam! We needed to be prepared for the worst! After 60 hours of the best blue water sailing in my young life, our freshly rebuilt, heavy duty auto pilot decided to peg the fun meter and pack it in! We still had 2,500 sea miles to go until our landfall in French Polynesia and that's a long way to hand steer! Brian and I worked for 4 hours on the broken auto pilot and our only result was to spray red sticky, and smelly hydraulic fluid all over the aft cabin! My off shore rock star crew handled the bad news well with their response of "Oh well, we're sailors after all so we can do this!" The conditions at the helm were so demanding that each crew member could really only concentrate for about an hour before they had to hand over the wheel to a relatively fresh shipmate! After only a day of hand steering, Brian, Avy's IT guy and satellite weather man said "Captain, when you get off watch at the helm, I'd like to show you a little something." When I joined Brian at the navigation desk, he brought up on his lap top one of the scariest things I've ever seen! A huge tropical disturbance was forming and rolling off the Equator southeast bound and using Avalanche as her primary target! Brian said that the beast had just formed out of no where and was building enough speed and strength to reach hurricane / typhoon conditions! I explained that the safest thing about a fast race boat like Avy was her ability to outrun weather! Brian's response was because of the storm's speed, direction, and huge size, the only direction to out run the monster was to set a course due south towards cold and icy Antarctica! After spending one summer solo up in the Arctic, I didn't want to face that much ice again! We brought the problem up to the rest of the crew. Brian said the only other plan that had any chance was to jibe around and head straight into the aft corner of the storm that for some reason forecasted to temporarily disintegrate before reforming again. Then head out the back side of the beast, jibe again, and ride the topside contour of the clockwise spinning low. The whole crew reluctantly agreed on the plan and we aimed Avy into the deep, dark, heart of Hell! At first it wasn't so bad but as darkness came on us, we found ourselves in the eye of the giant beast! In the eye of storms like this, you can typically look up and see clear skies, stars, and the moon and we did. But unfortunately we also experienced huge waves that came from every direction to form exploding rouge waves that unceremoniously tossed Avy's tennis court sized platform completely airborne! It was my turn to wrestle the helm and I simply couldn't keep any control of the boat! As Avy got blasted off the exploding haystack waves, she would do 360 degree spins as she fell off the wave tops and we tried to keep her upright. My brave off watch crew were trying to rest but began yelling at me for doing such a rookie job at the wheel. In the dark, I couldn't understand what was happening. I yelled at them that Avy simply wasn't answering her helm. Did we break off her rudder? Did the steering cables break? Or was I just doing a crappy job as helmsman? I called up Sir Chadwick thinking that maybe Avy just needed a much younger man with faster reflexes in these conditions. Chad took over the watch and he did better then me but Avy still continued to spin out of control! I stayed topside for moral support with a flash light. As we spun around, the deeply reefed mainsail would very violently and dangerously auto jibe. With each jibe I pointed my light up at the sail and watched the carbon fiber battens explode and my sail just rip away from the mast. Our severely reefed headsail was suffering in the same way. My brand new roller furler disintegrated with each hit. Brian came out to the cockpit and we both instantly saw a hatch cover rip out of the deck. Without the hatch we would sink! We both together lunged out on to the ama and Brian heroically and athletically caught the hatch as I grabbed his legs before we lost it into the sea. Brian grabbed some spectra line out of his pocket and started lashing the hatch back onto the deck. I scrambled below and shoved a bunch of stainless wood screws into my mouth and brought out some tools. We both tied ourselves to the pounding ama so the freezing waves could still hurt us but not throw us both into the drink. Our combined jury rig repair worked fairly well but before we even had a chance to recover from the beating, the over strained deck, boom, and mast fittings began to fail. Pad eyes exploded, blocks disintegrated, lines were parting, and cracks were presenting themselves in the hull and deck! We were taking on a lot of water! Every one of Avy's bulge pumps were pushing water out of her hulls! The boom was crashing wildly and threatening to break away from the mast. When I thought things had stabilized a little, I retired for a short rest down below but after only a few minutes, Brian slammed open the cabin hatch and yelled "We need you up here NOW captain!" I scrambled back on deck only to see our starboard running backstay that supports the mast on starboard tack had ripped out of the top of the mast! This meant that the mast was going to come down and fall into the raging ocean. When the backstay itself came down the heavy mast attachment punched a hole in the main cabin top! More work for the pumps! I ordered an immediate jibe so we were heading back towards Antarctica again! Dang it!!!!!!! In the last 24 hours, Avy only made 60 miles made good when we should have made well over 300! Brian immediately said "Our only choice is to run someone up the mast and try to reattach the back stay and I'm the one going up!" In forty foot seas, that act of seamanship would surely kill my friend Brian. The violent motion 65 feet off the deck would beat him to death even if he managed to stay in the boson's chair and not fall to the deck or into the sea! I said "NO ONE IS GOING UP THE MAST!" I needed to think of another plan that wouldn't risk my friend but nothing came to me! I assembled my highly experienced crew again and asked for suggestions because I had nothing except visions of sailing back into the Antarctica ice. Sir Chadwick spoke up and delivered the kind of really cool speech that all heroes seem to summon up in times of disaster! He said, "Captain! You made me first officer of this yacht. I'm responsible for that stay crashing to the deck. The sailor that goes up our mast will probably be hurt or killed. I would feel much better if that sailor were me so I'm pulling rank and I'M GOING UP THE RIG!" We took all of Avy's ripped sails down, I put Brian on the engine and at the wheel, the fearless Lauren tied herself to the deck so she could hear Chad's instructions from aloft and relay them back. I ran the halyard and the electric winch. Before I let Chat go up, I grabbed his foul weather jacket and yelled over all the noise and into his face that the last time I did this in 1/2 of these conditions, my crew came back on deck hanging head first and unconscious! I told Chad that I was not ordering him to go up Avy's mast because I would go up! Chad still elected to climb up. Our first attempt at running Chad up resulted in the whole electrical system failing under the strain with Chad stuck 1/2 of the way up the mast. Was Chad too heavy? Did all the pumps working drain the batteries? In all the noise of the rain and waves crashing over the deck, I hadn't noticed that the main halyard had gotten tangled and fouled. We forced Chad back down on deck, solved the foul, and I asked Chad if he wanted to try again! He said "Absolutely!" Lauren yelled "No! Send me up! Chad's too big!" Chad insisted! I drove him up as fast as the winch would turn. With each giant wave tossing Avy everywhere, Chad managed to hold onto the rig as his body got repeatedly slammed into the mast and rigging. He stayed up there to long for my liking. Brian kept asking me what was going on and I called out to Lauren "What is Chad doing and saying?" She said that she couldn't hear anything over the noise of the storm except Chad screaming from pain whenever he got smashed back into the mast! He eventually reattached the backstay and yelled to come down. I lowered him down and he laid exhausted and silent on top of the lowered mainsail and boom. He couldn't move his hands or use his arms! He said his whole body hurt! I gave him a huge man hug and said "Thanks Sir Chadwick! I'm really proud of you sir!" Ha! Lady Lauren said "Wait! He's my boyfriend! I should be doing the hugging!!!!" We dragged Chad back into the cockpit and raised a bit of sail. We jibed and headed back into the storm. Chad's repair held! On the top contour of the storm, the wind held at the same velocity but once again it was a steady westerly and we finally got back to Southern Ocean surfing with compromised sails and a broken boat! During one sunrise, I summoned up the courage to assess the damage! Avy was a severely beaten old girl! The carnage was sickening. My favorite and new screecher sail ripped away from her lashings and went lost over board, all working sails had gone to rags, there were holes in the boat, the bulge was full of water, everything was wet, and the cabin was in chaos. Brian poked his head out of the nav station and said "Have I heard a rumor that we might be changing our landfall captain?" I thought about it and decided that with no working sails and a severely damaged and leaking boat we weren't going to fetch the eastern most part of French Polynesia. In my best Russell Crow, "Master and Commander " voice I said "Mister Olson, please reset our course to Tubuai Island in the Austral Island Group, if you will sir." After another 2,000 miles we sighted our landfall on the horizon. Just before dark with thread for sails and a badly damaged yacht, we wove our way through Tubuai's dangerous surrounding coral reef, and got Avy's hook into the coral sand bottom. We made it! My crew were toast but still brave! I discovered when I called my daughter, Cassidy Barry, that Avy's satellite messaging beacon decided on it's own to transmit a distress signal. The New Zealand authorities were ready to search for us! My kids in the US Coast Guard were alerted. Friends and family were panicing on the Avalanche Adventure blog! Once again my kids thought that their dad was dead! Fortunately cooler heads at home calmed everyone down so there was no Southern Ocean wide search for us but Cassidy said "Damn it dad! Why do you always do this to us?" All I could say was at least Avy's crew are all safe, will be going home, and Avy's captain still has his hand on her wheel!
But then a Tsunami spun off the coast of Chile and headed straight for our anchorage on Tubuai but that's a whole other sea story! Ha! Stay tuned for more!!!!!! Thanks for reading! Was my story boring?
JB III, Captain, Reporting in from the warm and dry Lil Log Cabin, High Rustler Ranch, Colorado Rocky Mountains!