Update #85 - 17th March 2001 (6.00pm AEDST, 1.00pm local time)
Position - 45°28' S, 87°39' E

Air temperature - 10 degrees
Water temperature - 10 degrees
Tasmania is 2,485 miles away

Last Wednesday evening at 6.00pm, I noted in my log that the forecast was for 40 knots from SW, the barometer was dropping and breeze had built to 30+ knots. I dropped the mainsail and have not had it up since (3 days). Quote in log - "I think it might get ugly". The remnants of Hurricane Dara were heading my way and I had 'that' feeling. It blew around 40 knots from the NW, forecasted to go to 50 knots in the early hours of Thursday morning. By 2.00am Thursday, it was 50 knots but manageable and I noted in my log - "steering down seas with them on port quarter, so about 150-160 degrees apparent. Comfy at present but will get worse while it keeps blowing. YOU HAVE TO COME OUT HERE AND LOOK IT RIGHT IN THE EYE. COME ON. LET'S GO".

A SW front arrived at 5.30am at about 30 knots. Later the log says - "what a mongrel of a night". The boat had an extremely violent motion and it was very cold. By 6.00pm Thursday it was a steady 50 knots from WSW and the seas were starting to get very ordinary. Log extract - "boat wants to climb side on to waves, not good, very wearing on nerves, can't steer her away any more otherwise she will surf off on the face of them by the lee". At 10 minutes past midnight on Friday morning, it was a solid 60 knots and I recorded in part - "this has been the roughest part of the trip, I have not had a good time today, not game to let her line up straight on one of these waves".

I always try to assess my available options and one was to deploy the drogue to keep "Sal" from surfing down the face of the monsters, however, I was reluctant to do that because we had been engulfed a number of times from the stern and I felt that by slowing her down more might increase the regularity of this. I was in two minds. I felt conditions were about as bad as they were going to get, the barometer had started to rise slightly and I thought we might get through unscathed. Around this time I recorded - "standing there when main bilge alarm went off to indicate that the auto bilge pump has not activated OR water is rising so fast in the boat that it cannot keep pace with it. The alarm is a noise that strikes fear into my heart". Turns out that the auto switch was faulty, the water had built up progressively and the pump needed to be activated manually. I can tell you it is a time of high tension whilst you try and establish whether or not you are going to the bottom.

About 6.00am your time (1.00am here), it hit me. I was happy enough with the action of the boat when with no warning she was smashed on the starboard side and knocked down to port. I was in the navigation area and the question in my mind was whether or not we were going the full circle (a complete roll). The force was just crazy and the stuff that got thrown around the cabin and the places it ended up indicates that we went to about 120 degrees (the top of the mast 30 degrees below the water). There are marks on the cabin roof where items have impacted. It was all very quick and nasty. We came back up with me playing the 'stunned mullet' and then the dreaded bilge alarm went off. Has the hull been breeched? Have I pushed my luck once too often? After establishing that we were going to keep floating I went on deck expecting all sorts of carnage but only found the spray dodger torn from its attachments. When it quietens down I will carry out some repairs. The GPS turns on but won't give a position so I have set up one of my spare handhelds.

After inspecting the situation on deck, I quickly got the drogue out and deployed it in 60 knots with waves about 40-50 feet high. We were still overtaken by some waves but the drogue did a great job (partly sponsored by Alby McCracken from Para-Anchors Australia in Sale, Victoria). I rode the drogue for about 11 hours while I dusted myself off, got my head together and did some tidying up.

Three times I went on deck determined to get going again, but the first two I retreated below as I was a bit gun shy. The third time I went for it as it was then down to about 35-40 knots and it was time. Since then I've had a sleep (as I went for about 60 hours without any), tidied up some more and have got on with the job of getting home.

I currently have 25-30 knots from WSW with the promise of solid breeze continuing. Roger Badham reckons this area is the worst on the globe (even worse than Cape Horn). When you think about the number of yachts that get into trouble here, like Tony Bullimore, etc, I cannot argue. Vinny Lauwers from Melbourne, who was the fifth Aussie to go around solo (I'll be #6 if I'm lucky), reckons "the Indian Ocean is a beast" and I agree with him.

Anyhow, Belmont boys don't give in so up and at 'em and see you all soon.

Take care,

Tony Mowbray