Holed and Sinking…

Sänna emergency haul out in Anacortes
Emergency Haul Out in Anacortes

“For the first few minutes both of us thought we were sinking. Marie quickly dug out the emergency grab-bag containing our personal possessions we’d need if we abandoned Sänna and we donned our life jackets. In somewhat of a panic, I checked our life raft and we were ready to go. Marie manned the VHF radio to call an emergency Mayday…” Dave

We’ve been dodging dead heads all year; huge waterlogged trees in the water that are partially submerged and incredibly difficult to see… especially in poor light or when the sun is ahead of the bows. Most of these sometimes enormous monsters originate from the endless forests that make up the shorelines of Alaska and British Columbia or they are washed down from numerous logging operations up river.

This collision just had to happen! Leaving Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Island in British Columbia and heading for Friday Harbour in the US, the wind suddenly rose out of nowhere as we crossed the Haro Straights. I quickly unfurled both the mainsail and the jib to get us under sail whilst Marie was still below, sending her slipping, sliding and cursing across the galley because I’d forgotten to tell her the sails were coming out! She was not best pleased and we lost breakfast! Then the wind kept rising and rising and we both realised we urgently needed to reef the sails as fast as we could. This whole situation was crazy! Then we struck the submerged dead head…

Neither of us saw the bastard. Our speed was well over eight knots when we suddenly crashed into it, instantly holing the bows although we didn’t know that at the time. Our propeller was still turning in free rotation and the submerged tree struck the propeller and then the rudder. We slewed off course which then sent our boom out of control, the wind swung Sänna around and we suddenly leaned right over. We knew we’d hit a dead head because of the tremendous sound of impact; it then quickly surfaced behind us and it was unbelievably huge. We totally lost control and Sänna wouldn’t come upright… Marie dashed below and there was water everywhere. This was it, we both thought, we were sinking.

Marie, as per usual, took control. She calmly collected all our emergency equipment together whilst I fought frantically to get control of the sails. Our rudder wouldn’t turn and the wind, now nearly forty knots, spun us around all over. Marie ran around below checking the bilges for seawater whilst I released the mainsail and jib sail to get them down as quickly as I could. Luckily, we were in fairly sheltered waters between the islands so there were no crazy seas to worry about. The out of control jib nearly launched me overboard whilst I was furling in the main but I got the sail in and slid my way back to the cockpit to wind in the jib. Once both sails were furled everything seemed under more control and Sänna now came upright. Then more of the tree surfaced which seemed to free our rudder…

I got the engine going and immediately made for the shelter of Stuart Island only a few miles ahead. By now things were under control and we were both thinking more clearly. We weren’t sinking at all! The water in the galley was fresh water from somewhere unknown and we calmed ourselves down. Marie put the kettle on and we had a cup of tea.

Once in Friday Harbour we moored up and sorted ourselves out. We had suffered damage but nothing that we could tell without hauling Sänna out of the water. We had seawater in the bilges and a leak from our stern gland around the prop shaft but our three bilge pumps easily cleared the water out. We decided to make for Anacortes to haul out.

Damage? Our bows were holed but still partially sealed by remnants of tree wood. Our propeller was bent on one of the three blades, the shaft seal is permanently damaged and the gear teeth in our transmission gear box are somewhat stripped. If the engine had been under power then we would have lost our gearbox. More seriously, the rudder is damaged; holed and full of water.

So, now we’re overwintering in Anacortes, at North Harbour Diesel, an excellent company who hauled us out and are repairing everything as we speak. Our keel has superficial damage too but that’s more a result of colliding with a submerged part of Alaska earlier in the year (see our blog titled On The Reef). Numerous vessels suffer damage every year from these well named hazards and we’ve had several close shaves ourselves. Sailing at night or in fog is the worst and they present a real enough danger, making overnight sailing almost impossible.

But we didn’t sink, we’re alive and well with yet another close escape to talk about when those back home ask “well, what is it that you do exactly…”

Not bad eh?


Anacortes, south of Vancouver December 2015


5 thoughts on “Holed and Sinking…

  1. just when you think you are in for a quite day, when do you resume your trip? have you made your decision on what direction?


    1. Things are still up in the air right now Debbie. For personal reasons we’ve delayed our plans and we’re still in Alaska/British Columbia. We’ve dropped south to Anacortes to get our engine & gearbox transmission finally fixed, something we tried to sort up in Juneau, Alaska without success and is critical to our plans. We still plan to make our way through the Northwest Passage so we’re gonna stay in this region for at least this coming year because it still leaves our options open… if we make our way further southwards then we commit ourselves to Panama… it’s very difficult to sail north again against the prevailing winds along the US west coast. Our problem now is that we are in one of the most fantastic sail cruising grounds we’ve found since leaving the UK and, of course, we’ve made many good friends. We will return to Alaska this summer and overwinter there again. So we shall see.


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