Lessons: Sunk in a storm with no liferaft

Published on October 7th, 2021

Bruce Goodwin’s ocean crossing with friends was nearing an end when they encountered a storm; the liferaft was lost, the yacht sank. Skipper Stuart Pedersen tragically died just as he was being plucked to safety. Here’s Goodwin’s story:

Sailing is one of my passions, so I needed little persuasion when my good friend Stuart Pedersen asked if I could help him and his wife Pamela sail their yacht Essence back to New Zealand from Fiji.

I flew out on Sunday 6 October 2019 and joined the boat’s crew, which also included Pamela’s brother-in-law, Steve Newman.

The next morning we motored down the coast of Viti Levu island to Denarau to clear customs. While waiting for Customs, Stuart and I worked through the pre-voyage job list while Pamela and Steve went to the Nadi market for fresh food.

By evening, we had anchored in Momi Bay, ready for an early getaway.

After breakfast on Tuesday we raised the anchor and stowed it under a bunk down below, thinking that our next stop would be a customs wharf in Tauranga, New Zealand, nearly 1,400 miles south – this action was to impact our decision-making during the fateful storm six days later.

For the first 24 hours we sailed through showers with light, variable winds as we cleared the inter-tropical convergence zone. By Wednesday we were on a broad reach for home, and the blessed conditions would continue through to Sunday.

Essence was a joy to sail. Launched in 2000, it was a mid-cockpit cruising version of a Bavaria 47, well equipped and maintained. She could easily make 7 to 8 knots in little wind.

Conditions were forecast to turn gnarly so Stuart wisely decided to head for shelter at Opua in the Bay of Islands rather than continue towards Tauranga.

The worst of four weather forecasts showed a maximum 45 knots from an easterly or north-easterly quarter. I felt comfortable with this, because it meant we could sail a broad reach straight into the Bay of Islands.

It was not an option to heave-to and wait north of the storm area, because the rest of the week’s forecast showed strong winds from the direction that we wanted to travel. – Full report

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