We were two days out of Japan, and a prudent 50 miles east of the 200-mile-wide storm track off the Japanese coast, when the albatross showed up. It was white with dark wingtops and because of its size we promptly name it "747". The bird brought our first sailing wind, and 11 sets of happy teeth smiled at it as we put SORCERY on the wind.
The first week of sailing was one of perfect reaching conditions; out new shellbakcs began to pick up their sea legs and the old hands put in some good sea-going relaxation. Saito and Jake managed, despite their consumate skill, to land a whole school of albacore which Saito inscrutably hacked and chopped for Mabel. The job made him a shoe-in for the "Favorite Japanese On-Board Award", to be presented upon our arrival in California. Others garnered such honors as "Best Snorer", Bloodshot Sextant", "Smelliest Seaboot", "Forbidden Forepeak Forager", and "Best Shower on Deck" awards. Sorcery, after much deliberation, was chosen unamimously as the "Most Popular Yacht of the Trip".
On the 10th day out, at 38N 162E, the wind finally began to build. We steadily reduced sail until we were running before a south-westerly gale. This was the first day of an almost endless succession of gales and squalls that plagued SORCERY. Like its successors, this one swung all the way round-the-clock, and we hundered down with a dep reefed main and the very heavy story staysail. For two days the gale blew around the compass, as each watch learned ints lessons about heavy-weather boat handling. Finally, it peaked on the 12th night offshore, with the averaging wind-speed indicator stuck above 60, and ridge-sized Pacific roller overtaking SORCERY like fast moving granite hilsides, their tops blown flat and their flanks veined with spume. Throughout the 12th night we heard the real growlers passing by off the port quarter, the loudest seeming near enough to touch, but always remaining visible somewhere in our wake.
On the 20th day after a good deal of democratic discussion, we reduced sail to the story trysail only. The barometer had locked itself in the bilges several hours earlier, resting uncomfortably at 29.34, but was beginning to rise, and the occasional squalls were peaking into the 50-knot range. Somewhere to the north there was real weather, and the seas were thundering through in sets that measured 15 to 25 boat lengths between the crests. It was five-minute weather. We got five minutes of dryness when we came on deck, then two hour and 55 minute of cold, wet, but exhilarating sailing.
At 50 minute after midnight on the 21st day, Bob Dickson roused my watch for the delightful on-to-four stint on deck. Topside, Ted Rogers was at the helm.
I stood at the base of the mast bracing myself with a grip on the 1/2-inch tie rod. I could feel feel the regular motion of the ship, and tried to get back into her mood while reaching down on my foul-weather gear.
The freight train hit us. There was no time to react. As the starboard locker emptied onto me, the engine, which had been battery charging, kicked off. I piledrived into the amazingly white surface of the overhead, right where the cabin sole used to be; the port lockers emptied out. Sometime in between it seemed that a wave had washed through into the forepeak, but I barely noticed it. Everything was very, very vague, and I sat buried in cans and boxes on the cabin sole watching black stuff run down my arms. The whole world kep going in a barrel roll, and the noise was like being in a cement mixer. The first definite sounds that penetrated the chaos were piercing screems from on deck, then a sound of "Man Overboard, Man Overboard, Man Overboard".
Dawn of the 21st day discovered a crippled, 61-foot racing yacht, dragging a $30,000 Flopper Stopper through 40-foot seas. She carried three-and-a-half able-bodied crew, two serious casualties, and all the walking wounded. We knew where we were, since we had made plots for every watch, starting at the dock in Tokyo, and maintained them through 10 days of nasty weather, while Shooter shot for the sun nearly every day. Unfortunately, no one else in the world know where we were, and we had no faith in out ability to contact anyone. All of our communications equipment had been knocked out, exceting the emergency beacon, and we were not willing to use that as a shot in the dark, not knowing if anyone was listening.
Hours after dawn we strung out a 20-foot dipole antenna along the deck.
At 7:30AM the world answered in the form of a Homer, Alaska, ham operator, then a man in Ketchikan picked us up, then on on Widbey Island in Puget Sound, as soon a grid was established all around the pond. I never knew how many people listened to the world going by before, but that morning we learned to love them all.
About 240 miles north of us, the 378-foot Coast Guard cutter MELLON was en route to Kodiak. They turned and began to slog back to us at 42N and 162W.
It was late Sunday morning when the freighter NEGO TRIABUNNA of Liberia, and the Danish freighter CAMARRA, found our piece of the ocean. It took CAMARRA hours however to find us, even though we were in radio contact, since we resembled nothing so much as a broken wave crest. She stood by unti the MELLON arrived at 2:30PM then went on here way.
In the days that followed we all analyzed and re-analyzed the events of May 8, trying to fit the wreck back together in our minds. We have agreed that SORCERY was the victim of a rogue wave, a wave that was moving diagonally across the set of our gale's rollers.
In the cabin the inversion was so swift that no one had a chnce to brace himself, and objects were literally shot out of the storage compartments and onto the overhead of the opposite bulkheads. Thirty pounds of potatoes actually crossed the cabin and lodged behind the toilet in the head. There was no yawning, or leveling before the roll, as one would expect if had suddenly gybed and backed the trysai. SORCERY didn't lie down and then ross, as she might have if we had broached on the top of our storm seas. She was spun suddenly on her axis, like a 34-ton kayak doing an Eskimo roll. The motion was so violent that a heavy frying pay was bent double, yet we have no idea what it hit.
The rig, when SORCERY regained her feet, was swrapped tightly over the weather rail, indicating that she had spun under it, draggint the stick through the sea, and snapping it off when the counterbalance of a 13-ton keel crossed the top of the arc. All this points to a mammoth force lifting her up, then flipping her over, as a giant breaking wave would do.
Most people are slow to accept the concept of the rogue wave, since they never see them on their local beaches. They do exist, and they off the most plausible explanation of SORCERY'S accident. The state of the rig, where no shrouds or stays were broken seems to be evidence against the mast's falling and causing a snap roll. Also, the leeward rails were relatively intact, and they were the rails that would have received a falling stick. Helmsman's error could not have induced a roll as instantaneous as the one which occured. If Ted had rounded up, none of our friendly 40-footers could have moved us, with no warning at all, through a 360 degree on our axis, in just four seconds. As for the speed of the roll, remember that Ted was thrown overboard to port, yet came up almost at once, on the starboard side.
On thing driven home by the incident is that the best modern offshore yachts are probably as strong as any sailing craft in history. SORCERY shows a few hairline cracks in her bulkhead finish as testament to the torque induced by her experience, but that is all. The hull, protected by the reinforcing band suffered cosmetic damage only. The deck stayed true, there was no glass breakage. No fiberglass shattered. Of all the parties concerned, SORCERY put in the best performance of all, without question, through 20 great days of sailing and five really lousy minutes.