Continuing The Nepenthe Story from our previous blog…all photos are courtesy of Ted Genard, co-mate on the sailing vessel. Weather now makes the news daily but this story continues with a cold side note historically speaking.
The Winter of 1976 was known for being one of the coldest on record for many states on the ast Coast. The news reported that the Central Florida orange crop that year was in peril. My wife mentioned she remembers this too as she was living in San Diego. In our previous blog, we set the stage for our readers following our bold adventure bringing down a sailboat from the upper east coast near New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Normally January in Florida can be a much welcome destination from Cape Cod and New York City dwellers.
Take a look upper left photo; it took two other crew members 45 minutes and at least a total list of 17 articles of clothing to get dressed to do your turn on watch. No skin was to be exposed. Gloves, socks, mittens, full face mask, and the boots with jacket and pants all foul weather gear. The longest that you would be able to stand watch was two hours.
Then after your watch, you were undressed by your team, clothing laid out to air out and the next person placed at the helm. It was called “blue hell” by Nordic sailors, since it stayed a steady 10 degrees morning, noon and through the night. The human body requires modulation of temperatures to repair and rest.
Nepenthe was known for loosing it’s mast twice in the Bahamas in the Bermuda Race. Once coming down a wave that was so steep, the mast was left behind the vessel. It was outfitted with a Ted Hood Mast and a 5/8 inch rigging. Even with this famous designer mast and rig, the seas were so powerful against us, that the Nepenthe managed only one knot per hour with waves rolling off the bow near Cape Hatteras – known as the “graveyard of the Atlantic”.
Night sweats are not recommended. Upon waking once, night sweats had leeched through my sleeping bag and attached my body to the wall. Being frozen to a wall bulkhead was a nightmarish surprise. Our crew was provided individual propane heaters. But upon use we all had noticed severe headaches. This was an indication we had carbon monoxide poisoning. With malfunctioning heaters, and stoves that did not work all the time we and the vessel were being stretched to the limit. All my life I was never this cold.
We were surfing on a full winter’s gale and waves would broach the deck more than once a day. The waves and wind ever increasing, the ice built up to over a 1/4 inch on deck. Walking was perilous. At one point, as a large wave was approaching I found myself grabbing the mast and my co-mate Ted for some reason leapt above me on the mast and as the wave covered us, I saw my friend being washed away and grabbed him out of a wave by his belt and pulled him back aboard. To this day, we still talk about that moment in time. When you look at the lower left photo, notice that the boat was listing at an angle.
Captain Hall was the first to discover the “droppings” on our bunk beds as the rats were scurrying through our air vents, jumping off our beds and going on deck to lick the ice. The rats managed to get into our food provisions, having eaten a half of a dried pepperoni roll which severely vexed our crew to know that the rats has invaded our food larder. It was Ted who gained the notoriety of being Rat Slap (initials on the bow of the boat on a sailing bag) as when one large rat made way very close to him on deck. With all of those layers of clothing the rats got braver, edging ever closer to crew on watch. Swat out of the boat into the freezing water went the head rat. One by one Ted eliminated the vermin. How many survived the trip? We never checked or knew.
Little did we realize at the time, that we were in fact riding the head winds of the cold front and stormy conditions that brought the 1976 historic snow both to the Bahamas and to Southern Florida that week. When we finally arrived it was a much warmer and yet still cold 37 degrees in Fort Lauderdale.
Finally, we had reached our destination. The trip from hell was finally over. The Nepenthe around 42 feet long and crew had survived together an amazing adventure still told by crew mates today. With all the heat waves around at the moment, I thought that something with a chilling edge would be the adventure tale to share.
Captain Albert as told to wife Ronda