A freak wave wreaks havoc on Kass Schmitt and Rupert Holmes' 36ft Zest as they attempt to sail to Lanzarote

We quickly discovered the port chainplate, along with a 2m length of the sidedeck and a large chunk of the main bulkhead had been torn from the boat, and the mast had been broken off 2m above the deck.

I asked if we needed to activate the EPIRB, but Rupert insisted that, as his feet were still dry and we couldn’t hear rushing water, we had time to assess the situation.

While he went on deck to have a look, I prepared the grab bags just in case.

Rupert returned, saying he had knocked the pins out which had connected the shrouds to the port chain plate to reduce the risk of the torn bit of deck being lost overboard.

We then did the same with the rest of the rigging pins, using our cordless angle grinder to cut the last shroud which was under too much tension to allow for removing its pin.

The rig, attached to the boat by only the forestay (with the part-furled genoa on it), was acting as a sea anchor.

The boat was lying head to the seas, drifting slowly downwind, and, most importantly, not taking water over the deck.

We managed to lash the piece of broken deck and bulkhead to a u-bolt at the base of the main bulkhead to prevent it getting blown or washed away.

We then stuffed all five of our spinnakers (in bags), and a number of other soft objects into the gaps to slow the water ingress.

We rigged our emergency VHF aerial and then spent the night resting, looking at forecasts, researching possible destinations, and doing engine checks.

At first light we discovered the forestay had parted in the night and the rig was gone.

A dismasted yacht in Muros

Safe and sound back in Muros. Credit: Peter Smith

We removed all lines from the deck to prevent fouling of the propeller and then started motoring towards La Coruña, 130 miles away.

We emailed Falmouth Coastguard MRCC, informing them of our situation and plans, and requesting that they monitor our position, but making it clear that we did not expect to need further assistance.

Having moderated to just 10 knots by morning, the wind ramped up again, and by evening we were once again in a full easterly gale, taking on more water through the hole in the deck.

We altered course to the south, in order to gain shelter from the wind and waves sooner.

We chose Muros as our destination, and arrived there, tired but relieved, just two days after losing our rig.

Lessons Learned

  • Engage a weather router, especially if you are undertaking a longer trip outside of the ideal season. A shore-based router has access to far better data than a small yacht relying on a slow connection.
  • Don’t panic. My guess is that most sailors in our situation would have immediately activated their EPIRB, and had I been solo I admit I would probably have been one of them. All credit to Rupert for keeping me calm while he did his rapid initial assessment of the damage to determine that we were not facing a Mayday situation. Triggering a rescue might well have put us and the boat in even more danger.
  • Oceanographers’ understanding of rogue waves is developing rapidly. As well as their existence being widely accepted, it’s now recognised they can form in a non-linear manner, which results in an occasional wave larger than would be predicted by simply adding the amplitudes of two super-imposed wave trains together.

  1. 1. First impact
  2. 2. Lessons Learned
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