North Atlantic Knockdown (1986)

The crew of Cloud Nine experiences a knockdown en route to Emsworth, England.

North Atlantic Knockdown

With the exception of Chuck Cooper (left), the entire crew was down below when Cloud Nine was hit by a rogue wave en route to England. Chuck, Rona House, and Shirley Cooper joined me in reminiscing about the incident.David Thoreson

With a crew consisting of Chuck and Shirley Cooper, Rona House, Fred Ening, and Ruth Kinney, Cloud Nine in the summer of 1986 headed for Emsworth, England, to visit the yard where she was built. Ironically, once there, we planned to fit her with storm shutters. En route, we experienced gale-force winds and were forced to heave to after losing steerage due to a broken quadrant.

During the afternoon of August 1, winds increased to a sustained 60 knots, making repair work difficult, but by evening the winds had settled below 35 knots, and our jury-rigged steering job was nearly complete. We were pretty tired and decided to remain hove to overnight, then get under way in the morning.

With the exception of our deck watch, Chuck Cooper, we were all below. Just before dark, we were about to settle down when_ Cloud Nine_ was suddenly picked up and dropped violently on her port side. It must have been a rogue wave, because by this time, the wind had dropped below 30 knots, and sea conditions were pretty reasonable. The impact shattered our entire port-side saloon window, and I estimate that we shipped about 500 gallons of water in about 15 seconds before Cloud Nine righted herself. Suddenly, we weren't tired anymore!

Using five plywood locker covers, I was able to board up the chasm from the outside. By drilling and securing metal screws through the plywood covers into the fiberglass coach roof, we were able to cover the breach. Our primary worry was whether another big wave might hit us before we could close the opening, but fortunately, the wave never came. After pumping her out, we spent a long, cold night fighting hypothermia, as all our bedding was soaked with cold salt water. In the morning, we completed our steering repairs and were on our way, hoping to find Land’s End and the English Channel. All our electronics were drowned, including our VHF, leaving us nothing but a somewhat damaged sextant for navigation. I was able to readjust the alignment and started to get fixes that I hoped were correct. Two days later, the Bishop Rock lighthouse was a welcome sight indeed.

Shirley said, “Roger had stated after sighting Bishop Rock that he could now put his sextant away, and I instantly replied, ‘Now I can put my Bible away!’ I was in a lot of pain from what we later learned were four broken ribs that I suffered after being thrown across the cabin.”

Chuck Cooper also remembered the passage: “Was it beautiful? Yes, especially the three days and nights without changing sails early in the trip. Was it exciting? Yes, the knockdown was certainly exciting. Were we anxious? Yes. Frightened? Momentarily, until we got things under control. Was it ever humorous? Yes, at one point after the breach had been closed but before we finished pumping out: An open bottle of Joy that was sloshing about in the flooded cabin left us up to our knees in soapsuds! Was it especially memorable? Yes, in that we’re still talking about it as if it happened yesterday—and it was 25 years ago. This reunion is absolutely astounding—122 souls with one wonderful sailboat in common, and how many different voyages? This is incredible!”