Hermione Pattison left home in summer 2019 to sail around the world with her husband and two kids on their 47ft yacht, Alisara. They've been swimming with turtles, battled an electrics fire, and spent lockdown on a remote Caribbean island. Now they're in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. Here's Hermione's story...
The Chesapeake – runaway boat and spinal surgery
Here in the Chesapeake we’ve been experiencing unusually hot weather. The days are scorching and the evenings… well, exciting! Clouds fluff up out of nowhere and give us the most incredible and vibrant lightening displays. During these times, us humans feel very insignificant and I find myself in awe of the sheer power of nature.
Last week, one such squall appeared. We knew it was coming thanks to the ‘weather bug app’ which has proved to be really rather accurate. We dashed off in the dinghy to go and collect our children who were playing at a friend’s house. On leaving their house, lightning had started overhead, so we decided to stay put. Keeping a close lookout, the wind and rain did not seem bad enough to cause huge alarm, and so we held tight for an hour until it moderated.
Walking back down the dock to our dinghy Ladybird, we realised that Alisara was not where we had left her! Feelings of doom spread inside me, although I tried not to show it and remained positive as we climbed into our tender.
We soon located Alisara across the bay nestled between two private docks. Motoring quickly towards her, lightening still flashing occasionally overhead, Douglas and I were both separately running through scenarios in our heads. It would appear that our daughter was doing the same; “Muuuuuuummy, will Sweet Pea be ok?” (Sweet Pea being Alice’s teddy). On reaching our sorry-looking boat, we could tell from a quick assessment that the hull had not been compromised and a pile was wedged under the leeward side of the hull. Alisara had magically side-slipped between the docks. A total miracle as a few feet either way and she would have wiped out docks and motorboats!
Soon friends from Fishing Bay Yacht Club arrived. We debated the best ways to get Alisara off the mud. Fortune would have it that the squall happened at low water, so we had time on our side. Despite our engine and a very powerful motorboat pulling, Alisara would not budge. Douglas donned his frogman suit to go over the side (protection from the swarms of jellyfish here) and felt his way around the keel and rudder in the pitch black. He was able to establish that the keel was most definitely dug right in, and remove the pile to free the rudder.
The next squall was inbound, so Alisara was secured well to prevent further slipping towards the shore. Our helpers left us for a while until the lightning subsided, but Douglas and I realised that we had 30 minutes left before high water, so we put every ounce of effort into shifting Alisara off the mud. We rigged up another line to a pile, back to our primary power winch. With full forward engine, bow thruster, windlass plus the power winch, we gave it all we had and very slowly Alisara started to creep to port, out of the mud. What a moment that was!
There was no time to celebrate though as we needed to sort the lines out and get to the anchorage ASAP before the howling winds came through. This we managed, and spent the next few hours watching the lightning show and our AIS anchor app like hawks.
The next day, we found out that the yacht club had experienced huge winds and enormous golf ball sized hailstones, which we had not had less than a mile away at our friend’s house. These squalls are extremely localised and we feel so terribly lucky that there was no major damage to Alisara or any of the docks. The neighbours have been wonderful and we are so grateful that no more damage was done.
After the excitement of our drag across the bay, it was back to the business of worrying about how to get back to the UK for my scheduled spine surgery to remove a ruptured lumbar disc. This had originally been planned for the spring, however the global pandemic had made what was a simple logistical task into an exceedingly complex one!
In fact, it was now becoming so complicated, and also uncertain that once back in the UK I would even be able to have surgery, that we decided to investigate having it done here in the US. We found the Virginia Spine Institute in Washington and called them up. After sending them the CD of my MRI from last year, I had a tele-call with the surgeon and his team for an initial assessment. Once complete, we had a price for surgery and a pencilled in schedule. Would you believe that from deciding to proceed, I was in post-op recovery less than 48 hours later! I have no idea how the clinic pulled everything together (I needed new MRIs, X-rays and many, many tests) in such a short period of time.
I am also still giddy from the unbelievable kindness and generosity of the families here at Fishing Bay Yacht Club. Three families shared looking after Arthur and Alice. A chap gave us his car, another family lent us their dock, and on my return to the boat some of the ladies have been cooking for us. None of this would have been possible without these wonderful people.
The operation went really well, and now the rest is down to me being careful, sensible and letting by body heal. I am lying here wondering whether I am the only person to ever rehabilitate after spinal surgery on a boat!
The children are being very helpful as I cannot bend, lift or twist at all for at least two weeks. It is getting harder to resist doing jobs on the boat as I start to feel better but I keep reminding myself of the pain I have been in for so long and how it has impacted the whole family. Whilst we wait here for tomorrow’s hurricane to hit (I am finding it a struggle not to help prepare!) whatever the outcome, my faith in human nature has been absolutely restored. As I said, there is never a dull moment onboard Alisara!
About the author
Hermione Pattison is sailing around the world with husband Douglas and two children Alice (6) and Arthur (8) onboard their Moody 47, Alisara.
PBO met the Pattison family out in Gran Canaria – at the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers – and again at the finish in St Lucia. Meet them in the video below, featuring the crews of 2019, where Hermione is worrying about provisioning…
Did they have enough cabbages? Find out in this video we took at the finish…