Golden Globe Race hopeful Roman Titov sails 307 miles under jury rig after his yacht pitcholed and dismasted in storm force conditions off Scotland
In December 2021, Russian yachtsman Roman Titov left Norway to sail south and earn qualifying miles for the 2022 Golden Globe Race.
On New Year’s Day, more than 200 miles off the north-west coast of Scotland, his 33ft Colin Archer-type cutter Vperyod was pitchpoled and dismasted in atrocious conditions.
The wind began to strengthen and by 2000 on New Year’s Day had reached storm force, writes Roman Titov.
I made all my heavy weather sailing provisions, but at 2048 the waves pitchpoled the boat over her bow and onto her starboard side.
I flew overboard but was held by my harness. As I was wearing six layers of clothing, it was very difficult to climb back on board and my face was wounded in the process.
There was about two feet of water below, the engine was submerged, the starter and service batteries were underwater, and the starboard navigation light was carried away, along with one of the washboards and the sprayhood.
The mast had broken underwater, and its bits were lying along the deck. The standing rigging was intact and taking the strain.
The whole deck was a tangle of wire and rope.
I tried to send a distress signal on the VHF radio, both automatically and by voice, but after five minutes the service battery had discharged, due to a short circuit, and all the electrics failed.
Below, the locker lids had all been ripped off, so that food, gear and electronics had all ended up in the water.
I turned on my Iridium satellite phone, but it could not find any satellites and I switched it off, unable to send a distress call with it.
For 30 minutes the mast lay on the deck, then flew overboard. The sea state was getting worse, and I was repeatedly banging my head and nose.
The two sea anchors which I had set the night before, along with the mast and the remains of the rigging overboard, were doing a good job stabilising the boat.
There were no leaks, but the bilge pumps were not working, as there was no electric power.
It took two days with a bucket to clear all the water.
I had entered a struggle for survival.
The outside temperature was 4°, and it was 10° down below.
My clothes dried on me and after a few days were no longer a problem. But I had to sleep in the dampness.
I toughened up and felt that the cold was no longer an annoyance.
On the third day I found the bolt cutters and was able to cut the shrouds and backstay. But the mast was hanging on the bobstay chain, which I was unable to cut through or unhook.
This was a serious complication, as what was left of the mast and sails was acting as an anchor, and the yacht was not moving at all.
Neither had the sea relented. On 1 and 2 January, the waves were huge, with a wave period of one and a half to two minutes.
Waves like this are not dangerous for yachts as long as the crests don’t break, but they are a menacing sight.
Roman Titov sails again
It took nearly five days to clear the remains of the mast, and during that time the yacht did not move.
The sea state and the height of the topsides made it impossible for me to reach the bobstay chain and unfasten it.
There were a couple of ways of doing this: either from the water or from the deck, hanging overboard.
Only when the sea eased was I able to drag the remains of the bowsprit and the genoa furling gear on deck and free up the bobstay chain, releasing the mast.
Doing this, my chest was forced against the toe rail and I broke a rib, so for the next week I had little use of my right arm.
For the whole of daylight hours on 6 January, I prepared a jury rig.
For this I used the only remaining spar – the 5-metre spinnaker pole.
The next day I managed with great difficulty to raise the new mast. I attached stays to each side, got on my knees and put it in place.
The boat was rolling heavily and there were no handholds on the bare deck. It would have been easy to fly overboard.
The sails were not yet ready, and as the wind was strengthening, I once again laid out the sea anchors and rode things out for several days.
Down below I busied myself sorting out the aftermath of the capsize and making jury sails.
I began work preparing to start the engine. I had no idea how much charge was left in the starting batteries and hoped that the engine would fire up first time.
The alternator had shorted out, meaning that even if I managed to start the engine, it would not charge the batteries.
Three days later, with improving weather, I retrieved the sea anchors, raised the staysail and headed for the Outer Hebrides, 150 miles away.
This was the start of the active part of my self-rescue.
Of my navigational equipment I was left with a watch, a sextant, two charts (scale 1: 2,000,000 and 1: 5,000,000), two compasses and two pens.
All my notebooks, exercise and navigation books were soaked. I substituted masking tape for paper. I couldn’t find my ruler, so I used scissors instead.
During the hours of darkness, 16 hours a night, I couldn’t do any work. I spent several nights in total darkness, looking for a way to light the cabin.
My matches and lighters were wet, and I could only create a flame on my Primus gas stove.
I had one night of complete darkness; for the next two nights I was able to light the gas on the stove, which gave a very weak illumination; for the next three or four nights I used neon strips, and for five or six nights after that I managed to get my torch working, but it soon drained, oxidised and died.
From the seventh night I learned to use candles. I either had to hold the candles or place them in a particular spot on the cabin sole, аs the rolling of the boat made the molten wax splash and extinguish the flame.
I was unable to light the kerosene lamp as I couldn’t dry the wick.
During the eleventh night I saw the first ship, a fishing trawler working its nets.
I could not get near it and it made no sense to send up a distress flare.
On 12 January I picked up the Flannan Isles lighthouse. I headed towards it to try to get a position.
I had calculated my latitude from the pole star, but my longitude was out by 20 miles.
I fixed my position to within two miles of latitude and 12 miles of longitude, and was very satisfied with my navigational work.
For eight hours I tried to avoid the Flannan Isles. The wind seemed to be carrying me straight onto them.
I tried to go round them to the south, then decided that it was not worth fighting the current and went round to the north.
They were two to three miles off my starboard side when I passed them.
Finding a safe haven
Two days later I was within sight of the Isle of Lewis. I reckoned this to be a safe place and tried as hard as I could to get close to the shore.
Since 12 January the wind had backed from west to south-west and was blowing parallel to the coast.
I was afraid that it would go to the south and carry me north past Lewis and Scotland into the Norwegian Sea.
This was the worst possible scenario and I tried everything I could to get close to the shore and into the coastal shipping zone.
I was also hoping to get into the North Minch, to be protected from the waves and find a place where I could approach the coast.
By this time, I had got my AIS working.
At dawn on 15 January, I realised that I was being carried past the North Minch and that I might have to head for the Orkneys.
My mainsail was now ready, and I quickly raised it. Vperyod immediately sailed higher and faster. There was a fresh wind, and I calculated we were doing between 3 and 5 knots and sailing within 70 to 75° of the wind, which was very satisfying.
I was able to enter the North Minch and shelter from the ocean waves behind Lewis, but the wind was carrying me quickly towards a lee shore.
During the night the staysail began to tear.
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By the next day the lighthouse on Stoer Head was visible.
The wind, as before, was carrying me into the shore and there was a strong possibility that Vperyod would be thrown onto the headland.
The engine was ready to start, but I waited as long as possible, as I still did not know how long I would need it for.
I had enough fuel for 40 hours of motoring. I did not know how much charge was left in the starting batteries, so the engine would have to keep going without a stop until we were moored in harbour.
I left starting the engine until I could clearly see surf breaking on the headland. With the engine going, my situation was better, but there was still the time factor to consider.
Studying the chart, I could only see two possible bays for an approach.
The nearest bay was unattractive, on account of the wind and big waves at the entrance, so I chose the second option, the town of Ullapool.
It was further, but the entrance to Loch Broom was sheltered by the coastline and islands.
I planned the next 24 hours carefully, designating waypoints and the times between them.
I had only a chart at a scale of 1: 2,000,000, so my navigation was somewhat approximate.
I decided to enter the loch at first light, so that I could moor by sunset.
I worked out a safe place to wait and spent the whole night there, motoring under the engine.
I took down the staysail but left the mainsail up; it gave some directional stability and acted like a windvane, so I was able to sleep a little.
Land in sight
At dawn on 17 January, I was at the spot where I had planned to start my entry into Loch Broom. I would need six hours.
For the first four hours I struggled against a headwind and waves, as the wind had gone into the south, but after turning to enter the loch, the sea calmed down and I had a following wind.
The journey up the loch was straightforward. I raised the Russian flag, took down all the sail and motored at about 5 or 6 knots.
Right up until Ullapool, I did not see a single place suitable for anchoring, nor were there any pontoons or moorings.
I was getting seriously worried about finding somewhere to go ashore. There was no marine traffic, no yachts, no fishing boats, just the steep bare cliffs.
It was only having passed the town of Ullapool that I saw the harbour, with its jetties, moorings and vessels at anchor.
My radio was not working, so I could not ask for help, and nobody came to meet me.
I chose a spot and tied alongside, with just an hour of daylight left.
The port services had in fact picked me up on AIS, and seeing that I was motoring in and was able to moor independently, had not sent anyone to take my mooring lines.
At 1530 I reported to the harbour office and at 1630 I went to sleep.
One by one I had solved all the seemingly fatal problems which I faced.
Over the course of 17 days, I had been able to clear the boat of water, make a flame, dry wet clothing, erect a jury rig, sew small sails, repair and start the engine.
With just a marine chart, sextant and compass I had brought the yacht into a Scottish port, a voyage under jury rig of 307 miles.
Translator’s Postscript: Vperyod is now ashore at the Johnson and Loftus yard near Ullapool, awaiting repair and construction of a new rig.
Roman Titov has flown back to Russia to raise more sponsorship so that he can continue with his plans to take part on the Golden Globe Race, which begins on 4 September 2022.
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