Risen From The Ashes
Risen From The Ashes
The original forecast for the 2007 Middle Sea Race had been for a severe mistral packing winds of 50 to 60 knots, and though the truly heavy air never did materialize, it was still a seriously harsh, breezy contest conducted in nasty, squirrelly seas: Around two dozen boats retired and George David's 90-foot Rambler shattered the course record by over 16 hours after a passage of 47h: 55m: 3s. Loki was sailing a strong race and was poised for an excellent finish until Miles lost control, glanced astern, and almost tossed his lunch.
It was around five in the afternoon on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007; dusk would soon be descending, and over the next several hours, confusion would reign. Miles, no stranger to the outstanding point breaks along Sydney's northern beaches, for a brief period harbored a notion of surfing the boat behind a breakwater and into a quiet port. But he quickly realized it wasn't a viable option.
"The idea was, without steerage, all we could do was go across the breeze or dead downwind," says Miles, adding that the crew had gained minimum control of Loki by turning over the auxiliary and streaming warps and a storm jib astern. "The original theory was, okay, let's make for a port (in the gulf), but the harbors weren't very well marked on the chart, the water wasn't deep enough, there was a lee shore, it was all bad."
For a brief time Miles and Ainsworth thought a towboat was on the way, but it ultimately stayed put due to the rough weather. Likewise, the Farr 70 Atalanta II remained on station for awhile but carried onward after deciding they didn't have the ability to tow Loki, either. Hours passed. Around eleven that evening, Ainsworth made an executive decision.
"I wasn't going to risk the crew getting injured, or staying with the boat and hoping we could anchor it," he says. "That was far too dangerous. We were on a rocky coast. So I agreed to be airlifted off."
With that, the Italian air force dispatched a big Sikorsky chopper that plucked Loki's 16-man crew from a deployed life raft, without incident, in two eight-man rotations. Both Miles and Ainsworth said the rescue could not have gone more smoothly, and credited the mandatory training the crew had received in Australia prior to the Sydney-Hobart Race. Suddenly, as if beamed up to the Starship Enterprise, the team found themselves wandering the halls of a Palermo hotel in their wet foulies.
"But the next morning, someone organized some charity to bring over a whole lot of Sicilian clothes, so we're all walking around in nice Italian leather shoes and shiny suits," says Ainsworth. "Looking back, it was quite hilarious."
Ainsworth had one other morning revelation. "Luckily we'd thought to bring our passports," he says. "So I discovered you only really need three things in life to survive: your passport, a credit card, and a mobile phone. With those three things, you can do anything."
Before leaving the boat, almost as an afterthought, Loki's crew had tied every loose sheet and line together and tossed a pair of anchors over the side. Remarkably, they learned the next morning, the anchors eventually caught and held, and Loki could be seen just a mile or two from shore. By that time, Ainsworth had contacted a salvager as well as his insurance agent, and the two spent much of the day haggling over the price of a rescue.
Meanwhile, as valuable time slipped away, the Italian authorities were busy closing ports and, perhaps inevitably, the makeshift anchor rodes eventually parted. Loki washed ashore, its rig broken, late that afternoon, roughly 24 hours after the rudder vanished; remarkably, someone shot a nine-minute video of the boat crashing onto the beach which is now posted online (visit SailingWorld.com to see the video). A day or two later-before they were thrown in the slammer-several of the thugs who looted the boat were seen walking through town in Loki gear. The boat's satellite transponder ended up on an inland farm four miles from the wreck.
Now a lot of owners, having undergone such a traumatic, unsettling episode, might require some distance and reflection to sort out their emotions before making any rash decisions. Some might even consider a break from the sport. Those owners are not named Stephen Ainsworth.