Editor's Log: All in It Together

When a medical emergency struck in midocean, Derk Wolmuth and his Vindo 40, Bela Bartok, got by with a little help from their friends. Actually, make that a lot of help and from quite a few friends. Editor's Log from our October 2012 issue.

Bela

Before abandoning ship, Derk Wolmuth trimmed his jib and engaged his wind vane and Bela Bartok sailed onward.Ronnie Simpson

Last summer, Derk was well on his way to Kaua’i, Hawai’i, skippering his 31-foot cruising sailboat in the Singlehanded TransPac race that started in San Francisco, when he suffered a near-fatal bout of septic shock and was forced to set off his EPIRB and abandon the race. An Oakland-bound ship rescued him about 450 miles shy of the finish line of the biennial U.S. West Coast classic.

The tale could have ended there, with another otherwise perfectly good boat having been left adrift at sea. Instead, that's where the story gets interesting. Before giving up the ship, Derk somehow pulled it together and lowered the main, trimmed his partially furled jib, and set his Monitor windvane to steer a course for the islands. In the meantime, an onboard GPS tracking device continued to broadcast Bela Bartok's position, and the other solo racers took note. And rallied, says Ronnie Simpson, an ex-U.S. Marine who's made a name for himself of late in singlehanded racing and adventure-sailing circles. For the record, he won his division of the TransPac on his Moore 24, Hope for the Warriors/US 101. I caught up with him via phone as he drove north in mid-August to jump aboard and deliver an Island Packet 380 from Hanalei Bay to Seattle.

At race end, Simpson and several other sailors arrived at the finish line in Kaua'i a couple days ahead of Bela Bartok. By then, the public link to the boat's tracker had been taken down so only the race committee and the U.S. Coast Guard knew its exact whereabouts. That's when another singlehander, John Lubimir, skipper of Flight Risk, a Quest 30, began rallying the troops and offered to charter a fishing boat to save the Vindo for her owner. Everyone came together for the cause, says Simpson: "Bela Bartok was his sailboat and his home, too. And a lot of us are in the same situation. A lot of people contributed financially and with making arrangements."

There were several volunteers, but as the clock ticked and Bela Bartok neared, Simpson and fellow Moore 24-sailor Ruben Gabriel, the skipper of RushMoore, flew to Maui, where others had secured a local fishing boat that would take them to a rendezvous point off the island. In the early morning hours they set off, and in fairly calm trade-wind conditions they boarded the abandoned boat some 15 miles offshore at around 0700.They were greeted by chaos, but soon had lines (one was wrapped around the prop so there was no engine) straightened out and the jib unfurled. They jibed, set the main, and were off, bound for Honolulu.

"Sailing downwind under main and twin jibs, Ruben and I worked our way past Moloka'i, then steered an almost straight course to Oahu," Simpson recounts in his post on the sailing website Pressure Drop. "It was a fantastic sail with one of my best friends. Warm tropical trade winds, dramatic islands to look at, Jack Johnson on the stereo, and a bottle of rum. It was truly an epic daysail."

By 2200 that night, they were back in port.

The whole adventure was an impressive display of camaraderie, Simpson said in retelling his tale. In the end, a couple of dozen sailors came together to help a mate through a rough patch of sailing. That makes a hell of a good sea story.
Mark Pillsbury

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