Weathering Catalina's Year-End Storm on a Mooring - Part 2

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Photography by Richard Bertram

Beached trawlers

Aftermath of the Storm — Part 2:

A Freak year-end storm pummeled Avalon Harbor on California’s Catalina Island. Intrepid yachtsman Daniel Sipes rode out the winds on a mooring aboard his 34-footer and shares several important lessons he learned.

Editor’s Note: In Part I of Daniel Sipes’ story about “riding out” a bad storm in Avalon Harbor in 2014 (Night of Madness, July), conditions got pretty extreme. In Part 2, which begins shortly after harbor patrol officer Timothy Mitchell has fallen into the water while trying to save the 65-foot King Neptune from destruction, things turn deadly. Read Part 1 here ▶

Every patrol and Baywatch boat in the harbor raced over to where Tim had gone under, but could do nothing due to breaking waves. The harbor patrolman’s body would be recovered later the next morning. And King Neptune would be reduced to debris in less than two hours. Her engines remained at the scene, however, while the rest of the boat and its contents were spread throughout the harbor, with many parts thrown by the waves onto the city streets.

The harbor now stank of diesel. Two other boats, both trawlers, had gone ashore at about the same time as King Neptune. They hit the beach, not the seawall, so fared somewhat better, although I later learned that both were declared total losses by the insurance companies involved. The harbor patrol went back to grabbing wayward boats and towing them to the more sheltered portion of the bay. Out of workable moorings now, they were tying some of them to other boats or floats.

My Largest, Sharpest Knife

2014 Catalina storm

See more photos of the storm
and its aftermath here ▶

At about 11 o’clock, my neighbor onboard the 37-footer and I tried to speak to each other. I tried to tell him I’d done some diving off King Neptune a few years before and that she’d been a massive, good vessel, but he could not hear me. Although we were only 10 feet apart, the sound of the wind drowned out my voice. We did manage to communicate that we would keep an eye on each other, however, and help if we could. Both of us were the sole occupants of our vessels and sometimes you just need a bit of help from someone else.

I took stock of my situation. With the seawall directly behind my boat I was fully aware that if my forward mooring line were to part I would only have seconds before the boat would swing, the breaking seas would come over the transom, and she would either flood and sink or be smashed to pieces. So even though the engines were running, I would need to cut the stern line as quickly as possible.

I put my largest, sharpest knife by the saloon door. I was already wearing a PFD but took off my shoes (it’s much easier to swim without them) and put my swim fins by the saloon door as well. I took the boat registration and insurance papers, folded them up in a plastic bag, and placed them in my back pocket. I attached a water-activated strobe light to the shoulder of the PFD and put a waterproof flashlight in my jacket pocket.

The plan was simple. If one mooring line broke and there was time to cut the other, I’d first try to motor out. But even if I escaped the breakers and the seawall I would need to navigate through many rows of closely packed boats on moorings. I knew that with my boat’s ample windage, I would have poor control and might hit other boats or get a mooring line wrapped on a prop and become disabled. Alternatively, if my boat hit the seawall in just seconds, I would simply jump overboard and swim to the calmer part of the harbor where I could climb out or be picked up by a harbor patrol boat. Anything to avoid being onboard a vessel pinned against that seawall awaiting total destruction.

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This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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