A crash gybe in 45-knot winds injures the solo circumnavigator as another gale approaches

The north Pacific launches an assault on Adrian Flanagan and his steel ketch Barrabas as he attempts to sail solo around the globe via the polar regions. He wrote today on his website (for the full account see: www.alphaglobalex.com)

‘I am now in the latitudes of the depressions, which are moulded in the west and then, once free of the Asiatic landmass come hurtling across the north Pacific. I was hit by one three days ago. It was unpleasant. I was expecting winds to top out at 30 knots, but instead it was gusting to 45.

I was running before the seas with the boom out wide. I only had a fourth reefed main flying – akin to a storm sail, but nonetheless I wanted to reduce any tendency for the boat to head up into wind. I have rigged a preventer on either side attached to the aft end of the boom, leading to a block on the foredeck then back to the cockpit. So here’s what happened.

I began to bring the boom in towards the centreline of the boat. I had it about half way when a wave crashed up behind. It was pitch black, so the only thing I could see was the luminescent froth as the crest broke a few feet astern. The rush of water beneath the hull gained purchase on the skeg and the aft part of the keel and with a mighty flick spun the boat through 120 degrees, off the wind. The effect was to put the wind in front of the small area of mainsail – effectively the boat gibed. Because the boom was prevented, I wasn’t overly concerned.

As with all accidents, time slows to flow like molassses, sensations and awareness focus to sharp points, thought processes become magically lucid and accelerated. While I was confident in the preventer, the boom was crashing inboard at an alrming speed. I was working the main sheet in the cockpit to continue my efforts to get the boom in. I managed to duck as the boom flew across the cockpit – I sensed it more than saw it. Its flight caused the main sheet to slacken. I later discovered that the sprocket welded to the foredeck and to which the preventer block was attached had been ripped clean away.

As the boom came in and the sheet slackened, the multiple purchase system that allows me to hand the sheet even under full load transformed from a regimented series to a vipers nest of tangled rope. As I ducked the boom, I let go of the sheet parts which then became tangled around my right shoulder. As the boom went over and the sheet began to tighten, it gripped my right arm and shoulder, bodily lifted me from the cockpit and smashed my back against the cockpit coaming. My shoulder kept going, up, out and away. At the moment that my shoulder reached maximum stretch and where dislocation was the inevitable next step, the boom stopped with a loud whipping crack as the main sheet became taut. I reckon that if I hadn’t taken the sheet in as much as I had, the situation could have been very much more serious. As it is, my shoulder was excruciatingly wrenched. For the next two days I was unable to lift my arm more than a few inches away from my body.

The storm passed over though before it was fully spent, I collapsed on the cabin floor and went into an exhausted sleep.

‘The shoulder is now much improved if still tender. That’s the good news. As I write, the next depression hits in ten hours.’