Solo Drama in the Screaming Fifties

Solo Drama in the Screaming Fifties

...and How Modern Communications Helped Save the Day

By Vice Commodore Tony Gooch - 27/12/2017

OCC member, Randall Reeves, left San Francisco in early October on a solo non-stop voyage, south to Cape Horn, around the Southern Ocean, up the Atlantic and through the Northwest Passage and back to San Francisco. He calls it the Figure 8 Voyage. He is sailing our old boat, Taonui, now renamed Moli, a 42 foot very tough, very capable aluminium sloop. On December 18th, 500 miles from Cape Horn he was in 45 knots, gusting to 65 - 70. A knockdown caused water ingress into the autopilot electronic control box knocking out the autopilot.

The next day a following wave caused the emergency trip line to the stern boarding ladder to become entangled in the latch of the Monitor windvane and the strain broke the weld of the Monitor's vertical post to the latch plate. No autopilot. No windvane. Big problemos!

Randall had to hand steer 400 miles to reach shelter in Chile. Brutally hard work. The boat has a big stern-hung rudder and is tiller steered. The lows and fronts kept coming. He's steer for four hour shifts, then heave-to or drift. On the fourth day, he had to lie to the drogue for 24 hours while a low with 45-knot front passed by. After 2 1/2 hours of back-breaking work to retrieve the drogue, it took six long, cold days to reach Bahai Cook.

In the meantime, a shore-support team took form. The OCC Fleet map showed Chugach, sailed by Olivier Fourment, in Ushuaia. I emailed Olivier and Roxanna Diaz the OCC PO in Ushuaia for advice on entry, shipping replacement parts, etc. I reached an old friend who had just recently been diving in the area. He advised that the nearest suitable anchorage was fifty miles inland from Bahai Cook. Closer anchorages required lines ashore, too dangerous for a singlehander.

The trackline on the above screen shot (Dec 26, 03:00) is from pings from Randall’s Iridium phone. With this phone we had instant communication to develop sailing strategies and to plan a route into the Chilean Canals. At the same time, parts were assembled for Randall’s wife to carry down to Ushuaia. Shipment by courier was deemed bound to fall afoul of Argentinian Customs.

Randall arrived 50 miles off the mouth of Bahia Cook at 04:00 on December 25 and was faced with the choice of fifty miles into Bahia Cook plus an overnight trip for fifty miles through passages sometimes as narrow as 3/4 mile, or going back out to sea into a forecast 40+ NW gale. He opted to press on. Inside Bahia Cook the first task was to retrieve the 60 lb Bruce anchor from the anchor locker, this done while drifting in 35 knots with lee shores all around.

All this on Christmas Day/Night. From the comfort of our warm home in Victoria, BC and later at Christmas dinner with Ian and Susan Grant (RRC for the Pacific Northwest), we followed his trackline and exchanged cryptic emails with an exhausted, wet, cold Randall who, in the gathering darkness, had to find and navigate the narrow 32 mile long Brazo Sudoeste that leads ENE to the Beagle Canal and to safety at Caleta Olla, one of the few sand bottomed, well sheltered anchorages in southern Patagonia. Coryn and I and about ten other boats spent Christmas in Olla in 1996. I told Randall that he could expect plenty of help there.

Moil arrived at Olla at 01:30 on Boxing day. Following his chart plotter in 30 knot winds and driving snow he briefly went aground near the entrance. It took two attempts to get the anchor to set. He had the place to himself. Magical. Meanwhile, we were enjoying after dinner drinks in front of the fire, following his trackline and AIS postion on, checking out his weather on WindyTy and sending him a congratulatory email on his arrival.

It is a strange, instant communications world that we live in.

Randall was always going to have to stop in Greenland to wait for the ice to clear in the Northwest passage. With this delay, that Greenland stop will be a couple of weeks shorter.

Randall has a great blog site at

Tony Gooch

P.S. Roxanna Diaz, PO Ushuaia is now actively assisting Randall with entry formalities and sourcing local supplies. Joanna, Randall’s wife, should arrive December 28/29.

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