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Arnie Schmeling and the missing finger

Published on May 31st, 2020

The 20th-century legend of the Kialoa yachts and hall of famer Jim Kilroy indeed has many sub-legends. In the subcategory of Kialoa incidents involving unruly spinnakers, Andy Macdonald has one to add from the 74-foot Kialoa II.

Storming out of the Solent, bound for Fastnet Rock in 1969 on a ferocious ebb, the wind backed a bit in about 20 knots, giving K-II a TWA of somewhere around 110 (perhaps a bit tight on the AWA for what was to come, and this was before the Bank’s Star Cuts and such).

K-II was under double-head rig, and Jim was non-negotiably convinced (as usual) that we needed to test the shy kite and everyone’s manhood (sorry, ladies).

This conviction may have been influenced by the red 12-metre that lurked a bit behind, K-II’s principal antagonist in the first-to-finish battle that had already begun and would closely play out 600 miles later. Jim’s Irish-Catholic upbringing had an unusual 11th Commandment — never lose to Ted Turner!

Roy Bream was on feed while I was alongside the legendary and forever-loved Arnie Schmeling on hoist on the mast-mounted port-side spinnaker halyard winch. The 3.0 oz. (!!!) Watts shy kite was in gnarly rugged stops, not the wimpy yarn used by Aunt Emma to knit you a sweater.

Nonetheless, the top-of-the lungs proclamation smartly arrived from Roy at the bag that the kite was breaking out three-fourths of the way to the top. I held high as Arnie went for wraps… but it was a bit too late.

Navigator Pat Reynolds, who brought K-II home to a first overall Transatlantic in Cork six weeks earlier, radioed a VHF ambulance launch to come alongside while K-II continued to steam westward. Jim ordered Arnie to go to hospital to see if his severed finger could be reattached.

Arnie would have refused anyone but Jim, so he regrettably slid into the launch captured in the deep hollow of the leeward quarter-wake. As Arnie was leaving, Roy slipped a loose digit in a baggie into Arnie’s yellow foulie pocket. (If it hadn’t been for the instant response by Conn Findlay and Steve Hathaway to the “situation”, more carnage would have occurred).

It was 600 miles later, K-II (without Arnie but still with his irrepressible/indomitable spirit aboard) regrettably finished in the dark, within very close sight of Eagle’s bright stern light at Plymouth.

Arnie (RIP) kept sailing for another 35+ years, as maniacal as ever (but without finger). Conn and Roy and Steve and Jim (RIP) did much the same (with fingers). We are a priceless and special community, the Kialoa folks as well as the rest of you. Stay safe in these challenging times. Arnie would prevail.

PS: Cheers to “Smart-O” for his fabulous recollection of his escapades at Rebecca Shoals. And grand kudos to his subtlety about Jim’s comments on Jim’s steering. Those who did the wonderful miles with the Kialoas know so well the Legend.

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