Saving Everest Horizontal

Part II: On a real-life Mission Impossible, even the best-laid plans can go awry

February 4, 2004


Saving Everest Horizontal involved some trial and error. On our first attempt to right the hull, we rigged a towline under the hull and back over the keel. Godfrey Simpson

Editor’s Note: In Part I last month, Tim Kent’s Open 50, Everest Horizontal, which Kent skippered to second place in Class II of the 2002-2003 Around Alone, had inexplicably shed her keel bulb and capsized while Tim and friend Rick McKenna were competing in the Bermuda One/Two. In a dramatic night rescue, the cruise ship Nordic Empress pulled the pair from Everest, which was overturned but still afloat. The story continues:

Everest Horizontal was out there, some 110 miles north of Bermuda, crippled, perhaps dying, and I couldn’t let that happen. She’d carried me around the world in the Around Alone race, pounded through storms in the Atlantic, surfed at 28 knots through the Southern Ocean, beaten her way upwind along the coast of South America, helped me survive catastrophes that would’ve killed another boat. So the day after I set foot on shore again, the rescue effort was under way.

As I tried to regain my footing at home in Milwaukee, the Around Alone family swung into action. Fellow class competitors Brad Van Liew (Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America) and Alan Paris (BTC Velocity), who lives in Bermuda, started working to find a reasonably priced boat to go out and search for Everest. Bruce Schwab called from California to offer his services and those of his Open 60, Ocean Planet, for the search.


Finances were a major obstacle: I had no money to speak of, and Everest was uninsured. But a fellow Milwaukee Yacht Club member, Brian Hagan, stepped up with a loan to make things work. Brad called to report that Alan had found an inexpensive boat skippered by an old hand from the Bermuda fishing trade. The capper came when I was shopping for clothes to wear (I’d lost everything in the capsize): A cell-phone call reported that a boat returning from the Marion-Bermuda Race had spotted Everest Horizontal! We had a hard position. It was time to head back to Bermuda. I called Bruce to tell him that Ocean Planet could stay in New England.

I arrived in Bermuda at midday and was met by Billy Fitzgerald, the videographer who’d filmed the Around Alone race. Billy had hopped on a plane to come down and capture the rescue of Everest Horizontal on video. It was great to know that there’d be a familiar face on board.
The salvage boat turned out to be an old Maine lobster boat with a single diesel engine. The boat’s design was seaworthy, but its condition was atrocious. Junk was everywhere: old parts, dozens of scuba tanks, weight belts, fishing rods, dive masks, old parts, bottles-all the junk that accumulates on a poorly maintained boat. It had no radar, but it did have a huge old pump for bailing Everest, and a relatively new RIB was ready to be loaded.

The diver, a Brit named David Calhoun, was at the boat when I arrived; Billy was also there, and everything was being prepped for departure. The skipper seemed more than competent, and his nephew, a member of the Bermudian army, was ready to go. The mechanic was changing the fuel filters, and I was told the fuel tanks were full. Billy and I looked at each other, agreed that we were in for another adventure, and when the engines fired up, cast off the lines.


**Inauspicious Start
**We’d gone about 100 feet from the dock when the engine died. Our “mechanic,” Earl (not his real name), eventually got it going, but the incident was a harbinger of the frustration of the next three days. Earl was, I must admit, one heck of a good mechanic, but he was also an alcoholic. Fully cognizant of his affliction, he adhered to his personal code of conduct-he never drank beer before noon. Only wine. He polished off more than a liter of white zinfandel in the morning, then went for the beer immediately after the clock struck noon. Just hours after we left, on an admittedly bouncy day, he had a large gash on his forehead from one of his many tumbles. On the second day, he split his nose open with a huge pair of bolt cutters that he was sharpening. His stumbling, alcohol-laden presence would have been amusing had I been involved in a less-ambitious undertaking.

At our 8-knot cruising speed, it would take us some 13 hours to reach the search area 110 miles north of Bermuda. We left in the late afternoon, planning to arrive at sunrise. I decided that we’d start at the spot where the sailboat had spotted Everest and work a grid in the direction that she’d reportedly been drifting. I had no illusions about how difficult it was going to be to see the boat; even though her keel and rudders were painted orange, we’d need to be very, very lucky.

Our boat had no autopilot, so we hand-steered the whole way. An old but accurate handheld GPS was our only guide, and the night was foul, with 6-foot seas that didn’t treat our lobster boat kindly. The junk covering the bunks and the lack of cushions on the main cabin’s settees complicated sleeping arrangements. Earl passed out on the floor. Everyone else crashed where they could find a spot, anywhere except for the floor. The floor was for the cockroaches-hordes of them.


Daybreak had us on station at the boat’s last known location. My job for the next 12 hours was to drive the grid I’d programmed into the GPS. The four crew, including the skipper, searched from the flybridge, where walking or even sitting was a challenge. The sea was still very rough, and the nice, shiny paint on the flybridge deck was as slick as oil. We had one pair of binoculars and four other sets of eyes, plus mine down below. I was filled with hope.

As the day wore on, that hope began to dwindle. Driving the grid was boring beyond belief, but no one else wanted the responsibility, so it was up to me. As the afternoon wore on, I told the skipper that we’d have to search until nightfall, then wait for dawn and begin the search anew. It was then I learned that he’d never filled the diesel tanks. He’d put in enough to get out to the search area, find the boat-which he thought we’d do right away-get it ready to tow, and then head back in. We not only didn’t have enough fuel to stay out another day; to conserve fuel, we’d also have to reduce speed back to Bermuda. I was livid, but there was nothing to be gained by getting angry-we didn’t have enough fuel, and that was that. At best, it would be a day and a half before we’d have a boat back in the search area. This was quickly becoming a disaster.

To take my mind off this newest problem, at 1730 local time, I tried on the VHF to raise Nordic Empress, the cruise ship that had rescued me exactly one week earlier. Her schedule showed that she’d be retracing the same course each week at the same time. Since our grid was taking us back to where the ship had rescued me and Rick, I was fairly certain that Empress would hear me. Indeed, I raised her at the first attempt, and my rescuers were delighted and surprised to hear me out on the same stretch of water one week later. I asked them to keep their radar tuned up to see if they could find Everest one more time. They said they would, and we signed off.


As darkness fell, my searchers all returned to the cabin, our mission clearly a failure. I was still at the helm, motoring into the gloom, when our VHF crackled to life; it was Nordic Empress! The excitement in the voice on the radio was palpable. They’d found a hard radar contact that wasn’t moving; they were changing course to investigate. They were some 9 miles away, but not too far off our course, so I headed there. Fifteen minutes later, an excited voice came over the VHF: “We’ve spotted the boat! We’ve spotted the boat!” They’d put a spotlight on the upturned hull of Everest. They gave us the latitude and longitude of their exact position and wished us good luck.

I was excited-a hard position less than 9 miles away; we were going to see Everest! By then, it was completely dark and overcast. Seas were building as we approached our mark, and as we got out our spotlight, a mist began to fall. We arrived at the position at which Everest had been spotted but could see nothing beyond the bow of our boat. We searched for an hour-very slowly, since we didn’t want to run her down. But in the misty gloom, without radar, there was no way that we were going to find her. Running very low on fuel, there was no choice. We had to return to Bermuda.

When we returned a day and a half later, we found nothing. I attempted to radio a sailboat that was near the search area at sunrise, but it didn’t respond. Nor did we hear any of the reports from Bermuda Harbour Radio that I was accustomed to hearing. I gave the apparent radio silence no thought as we crisscrossed the area where Nordic Princess had seen the boat. As the sun set on this second day of searching, we’d seen nothing, and we dejectedly headed back to Bermuda.

**Last Hope
**I was out of options. I’d spent most of my money with nothing to show for it. When we got back to the dock, we unloaded the boat. I went with Earl and his girlfriend to return the dinghy they’d borrowed, then went to his place for a shower.

While I was there, I got a call from Bermuda Harbor Radio that made me more frustrated than ever. A sailboat, probably the one that I’d attempted to hail, had spotted Everest the morning we’d arrived on station. Bermuda Harbour Radio and the sailboat both attempted to contact us, but we didn’t hear either call. Somehow, the radio had failed. I pried Earl away from the television set and got him to give me a ride into St. George; his girlfriend drove because Earl was predictably drunk. I had them drop me and my gear at a scooter-rental shop. As they pulled away, I felt lower than low: The boat was still missing, I was running seriously short of cash, and my search options had narrowed to none. What next?

At this point, fate steered me to the only sail loft on the island, Ocean Sails, a Doyle loft, owned by Steve and Suzanne Hollis, whom I’d briefly met before. Steve, Suzanne, and their friend Paul LaVigne were convinced they could find a good crew to go out to find the boat. “A great adventure” is how they described the opportunity, and the couple was soon lighting up the phones. The more Steve talked to people, the more he wanted to go.

Thirty-six hours after I’d arrived, bedraggled and dejected, at Ocean Sails, I met Steve, Paul, Steve’s friend Tom Wadson, Dave the diver, Godfrey Simpson-a cruiser who was waiting for crew to move his boat-and the skipper, Sloan Wakefield, on the dock in downtown St. George. Sloan runs a charter-fishing operation on his Luhrs 38, Tenacious. Sloan was the most dubious about the undertaking, but Steve is a great salesman. We loaded an old “trash pump” from Tom’s farm, Godfrey’s dinghy, Dave’s diving gear, and food onto Tenacious and left at sunset.

What a difference. Tenacious was as spotlessly clean as the previous boat had been filthy. An autopilot, radar, and a satellite phone had us all set on the electronics end, and we spent an uneventful, if rough, night heading out to the last known position of Everest. At dawn, three pairs of binoculars swept the waters, and two pairs of unassisted eyes backed them up. At noon, spirits started to drop; with a recent position and radar, we thought we’d be able to track down Everest with more ease. At 1300, we still hadn’t found her. At 1400, as Steve and I were disagreeing about where to head next, Sloan sputtered, “Th-th-th-there she is!”

No one saw anything where Sloan pointed, but he was sure. He turned toward the sighting and brought Tenacious up on a plane right away. Several minutes later, amid hollering and high fives, we were slowing down next to the overturned, waterlogged hull of Everest Horizontal.

Everest was floating much lower in the water than when Rick and I abandoned her. It was clear that some of the watertight compartments-if not all of them-were flooded. Aside from the keel and rudders, only the bottom of the hull between them was above the water; the hull forward of the keel was submerged. That anyone had spotted the boat was an absolute miracle.

As we approached the boat, the weather moderated-almost eerily so. The 6-foot seas diminished to a placid, 1-foot swell, and although it was drizzling, the temperature was noticeably warmer. Finally, a break. Dave and I paddled the dinghy over to Everest and tied a line to her from Tenacious. We then swung next to the boat, and I put on the mask to check the rig.

As I’d expected, the rig was shattered. Two pieces of the carbon mast were hanging by their rigging; most of the mast above the lower spreaders was already gone. The main was ripped to pieces, and the code zero was hanging out of the now-open foredeck hatch (it had been dogged shut) and was tangled with other sails. The solent jib and its headstay were gone. We’d have to cut the rig away.

I returned to the boat and picked up Steve. We donned life jackets, grabbed some rope, and returned to Everest. With Dave’s help, we attached a line around the top of the keel to a hard point on the boat. After first attempting to right the boat with a line that ran from Tenacious under Everest and up to her keel, we tried a simpler approach: tying a line directly around the top (as we were looking at it; it was actually the bottom) of the keel. This time, when Sloan applied the throttle, the hull started to roll. Once her starboard rudder went into the water, Everest turned quickly, as quickly as she’d capsized when she lost the keel bulb. Sloan backed off the throttles, and we all cheered. Amazingly, Everest was right side up once again.

Everest’s bow, once showing more freeboard than even the Open 60s, was completely underwater. The boat was awash back to the mast hounds, and water sloshed into the boat from the small waves. We made several trips back and forth until Tom, Steve, and I were on board with the pump. Tom’s pump, an antique, battered contraption with cable ties securing the gas tank, worked beautifully despite its appearance.

Steve and I, with Dave’s assistance in the water, began to cut away the rig. We saved the bottom 15 feet of the mast as well as the boom, but everything else was so badly damaged or tangled that we couldn’t save it. So we cut, hacked, pulled pins, and began to shed weight. We had to clean the pump’s intake screen regularly, but it kept working flawlessly. Slowly, slowly, slowly, Everest began to rise from the water.

**Bermuda Bound
**After some four hours of work, we’d cleared the rig, lashed down the boom and mast stub, and pumped out most of the water. We then rigged a tow line, lashed down the tiller, and returned to Tenacious. At 2000, six hours after we’d sighted her, we got the dinghy back on Tenacious, rigged a bridle, and started towing Everest back to Bermuda. As we got under way, the slight swell built back to 5- to 6-foot seas. We were truly lucky that day.

Sloan rigged a light that we ran down the line to Everest so we could keep an eye on her during the night. As the sun went down, I stood in the cockpit for a long time looking back at Everest’s familiar shape. Seeing her following us home seemed totally natural, but what had happened over the previous week and a half had been anything but.

Sunrise saw us entering Town Cut in Bermuda, the same channel through which I’d sailed Everest Horizontal on the start of the second leg of the Bermuda One/Two just a week and a half earlier. I got on the boat to steer her in, with Suzanne and a few friends hollering from shore. This was almost as emotional for me as finishing Around Alone had been.

Two days later, the cleanup on Everest began in earnest, and local sailors enthusiastically pitched in. One cleaned up the starter; the next day, we got the Yanmar diesel running. Another brought down his company’s diesel-powered hot-water pressure washer; we emptied all the garbage from the boat, and he washed the entire interior with hot water and soap, then rinsed it. The interior has never been so clean-too clean, in fact.

When the Around Alone Race ended, we had to clear out the gear-filled shipping container that had followed us around the world. So I took all of my spare parts, tools, and clothes and put them where they would be safe-on Everest. Now it was all gone. Tens of thousands of dollars of gear and priceless souvenirs, all gone. Most precious were two books made for me by my daughters with poems and thoughts that they’d written for me to open on Leg Four-gone forever.

But I was alive. That was an outcome that wasn’t guaranteed when Everest Horizontal lost her keel bulb. And I’d made some permanent friends in Steve and Suzanne, Paul, Dave, Godfrey, Tom, and Sloan. This little band of pirates had done something pretty amazing: We’d gone out on a sportfishing boat into the middle of the ocean, found Everest, rolled her right side up, and brought her home. This was an enormous feat and, just as Steve and Suzanne had correctly predicted, a great adventure.

What enterprises lie ahead? I don’t honestly know. Everest needs to be rebuilt, and I must find a sponsor to help in that cause. One thing for certain: I’ll be on the starting line of the next Around Alone Race in 2006. Between now and then? All I can tell you is that I’ll make more new friends, sail more of the oceans of the world, and report back on what has transpired. Now I just need a mast, a keel, some electronics. . . .

Shortly after Tim Kent recovered his boat last summer, Hurricane Fabian drove her onto the rocks in St. George’s Harbour. Once again, with great resilience and not a little help from friends, he temporarily repaired the hull, refloated the boat, and got her back to a mooring in the harbor. Tim is currently writing and speaking about his Around Alone experience as he works toward finding sponsorship for a campaign in the next Around Alone, renamed the 5 Oceans Race, which is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2006. For a speaking schedule and latest update regarding his ongoing adventures, visit his website ( .


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