Stricken yacht limps safely to island
A routine trip to the Caribbean island of St Thomas turned into a nightmare journey to Bermuda after the yacht Stormy Weather was hit by a series of problems.
The yacht, which had already lost its propeller, was heading to Bermuda to drop off a sick crew member when the sloop's mast broke — which forced the crew to jury-rig a sail to travel more than 100 miles to the island.
Skipper Philip McKee said he had been hired to sail the 40ft sloop from Annapolis in Maryland to St Thomas by the boat's owner earlier this month.
But he said as soon as the crew left Norfolk, Virginia, problems started.
Mr McKee said: “I brought one of my crew members, and the owner provided the other three. All four got sick when we left Virginia.”
As the crew battled illness, Mr McKee found the boat's propeller had fallen off.
“We were maybe 250 miles out. I put the engine in gear and nothing was happening.
“It starts and stops. The batteries are charging, but there was no propulsion.
“I threw a rope around myself and went overboard. You didn't even need to have goggles. The shaft was spinning, but no prop.
“We don't know what happened. If we hit something, I never felt anything and it didn't happen with the engine running.”
Mr McKee added if the propeller had been the only problem he would have continued towards St Thomas, but one of the ill crew members appeared to be getting worse.
Mr McKee said: “He got progressively sicker and never got better. I'm no doctor, but what happens from observation is that they stop throwing up and start getting lethargic.
“They are in the bunk the entire time, and then they stop drinking fluids. At 30 or 35 hours without water, you have a serious problem.”
He added: “The trip at this point is diverted. We are no longer going to St Thomas. We are going to Bermuda.”
Mr McKee said Stormy Weather turned towards Bermuda on November 10 — but the mast broke that night.
Crew members had to hack the mast and rigging free to prevent hull damage.
Mr McKee and the crew — still more than 140 miles from the island — built a replacement mast using the spinnaker pole and called Bermuda Radio. The skipper said: “They started to talk to medical officers with the United States Coast Guard and we started to monitor things very closely.”
Mr McKee said Stormy Weather was equipped with a full medical kit, and with the guidance of Bermuda Radio and the Coast Guard the crew member started to improve.
But the bid to sail towards Bermuda was foiled by changes in wind direction.
Mr McKee said: “All of a sudden I had to figure out how to get this rig that we built to go upwind, spreading awnings and looking like the Mayflower.”
“Every time the breeze would come up, it went due northeast. Then maybe the wind would clock around for us, but it would drop and I couldn't put more sail up because I didn't have a pole and the boat is barely steerable.
“My object was to close the distance. Bermuda Radio was great, but it was very clear that a tow was not going to be available and there was no way I was going to abandon the vessel. The vessel was fine. My concern was for my crew.”
More than four days after losing its mast, Stormy Weather met a tow boat off the island on November 14 and reached harbour.
The ill crew member was taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for treatment and has since left the island.
Mr McKee praised the hard work of Bermuda Radio and Sea Towing Bermuda and said he was happy to make it to the island.
He said: “I've got to be honest, being stuck in Bermuda doesn't suck. It was great to be back on land, and we got the warm welcome that Bermudians are famous for.”