Made old salts overnight

2011-09-28 00:00

“WHEN Murphy set foot aboard, everything that could go wrong, did.”

This was how Gregg Challis, skipper of the 42-feet catamaran Tholile, made light of his novice crew’s traumatic experiences in high seas just off Durban en route to Mauritius on Monday.

Challis send a mayday call to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) after suffering through three hours of a gale. By then, both Tholile’s engines had stopped, the craft was rudderless, two sails had been torn loose in gale-force winds and their ship was being tossed about in 4,5-metre waves that broke over the craft.

When the storm did not let up, Challis became worried that the winds could turn west and drive their stricken vessel onto the rocks of the treacherous Wild Coast.

Challis said it was not the worst storm he had experienced in his 12 years as a blue water skipper, but it was the first time that he had to be taken on tow. He was full of praise for the skill of the NSRI and the bravery of his own crew, three of whom were on their maiden voyage.

Their problems started on Sunday at about 9 pm, when gale-force winds started to blow while he was on his usual southbound route to Mauritius before heading east and then north.

At that stage, a leak appeared and Challis decided to turn back to Durban. That night, however, Neptune decided to turn the novice sailers into overnight salts.Everything that could go wrong, did. Two sails tore loose in the night. One engine started overheating. Then a floating length of rope, discarded by a fishing trawler, tangled the prop shaft of the second engine. And all the while the wind screamed through the sails as huge waves smashed into the twin-hulled boat. But through it all, everyone on the nightmare voyage kept their humour.

Challis recalled how he and Gert Breet — a novice and at that stage very seasick sailor — crawled in the pitch dark to the pitching bow to fasten the sails.

A wave of some four metres broke over the yacht and swept both men like rag dolls against the railing. At the helm, Eddie Goldblatt, was also knocked flat.

“He was laying like a sea turtle on his back at the cabin,” joked Challis.

Kaylee Featherstone said: “I knew I must just continue to crack jokes but inside, I was actually thinking ‘Oh heavens!’. But you cannot panic.”

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