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Jump Off? Swim?

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Aftermath of the Storm, by Daniel Sipes (continued)

Raising Suzy Q

Jump Off? Swim?

“Harbor patrol, this is Susie Q. We are free and in need of assistance.”

The family onboard Susie Q, a 40-some-foot Hunter sailboat, had been seated next to us at dinner only hours before. There were three generations—grandparents, parents, and children. From the bridge of my boat, I saw Susie Q spiral off her mooring and turn her stern to the wind and waves. But her engine was running and she seemed in good shape, at least at first. I figured she was going to pass beyond the stern of a 35-foot Tiara on mooring 105 and then head out to sea. But instead she turned sharp, attempting to pass in front of the Tiara.

The wind and seas were too much. Susie Q could not force her bow into the wind. She collided, at speed, with the bow of the Tiara. Then she backed off and tried again but to no avail. Her propellers were wrapped and her engines useless. Indeed, she now seemed stuck to the Tiara, with her stern to the waves.

The harbor patrol came to assist. A line was run from Susie Q’s bow to the stern of the Tiara, an arrangement that ultimately let the sailboat swing freely from the Tiara’s stern. The strain on the line was tremendous. After a wave swept under the Tiara it would hit the sailboat, causing the line to snap taut. Periodically, Susie Q’s bow would smash the stern of the Tiara, which eventually began to disintegrate. And the sailboat’s bow developed a huge V-shaped hole, putting her in danger of sinking. If the line between the two boats broke, it was unclear whether Susie Q would go aground on the beach or hit the seawall. 

The skipper of Susie Q radioed the harbor patrol. “I’m not sure how long this line will hold,” he said, “What do I do if it breaks?”

The harbor patrol replied, “Float into shore.”

The skipper came back with, “But what do we do? Jump off? Swim?”

The harbor patrol responded, “We don’t have much to do with that. There will be people on shore to help. You might want to think about getting off right now.”

The harbor patrol sent a boat to Susie Q but her stern was pitching too much to transfer. So the patrol vessel pulled up alongside the mast, where the pitching was less, and the crew was able to abandon ship.

For a couple of hours afterwards, Susie Q battered the stern of the Tiara, which remained occupied and somehow afloat throughout the ordeal. The harbor patrol tried to free the sailboat but it seemed that she was somehow attached beneath the waterline. Some time after her occupants made it to shore, Susie Q sank.

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