This is the story of a nasty storm, a daring at-sea rescue, 10,000 conchs, hot coffee, and a Kadey-Krogen 39' named Bodacious. Mostly it is a fantastic cruising story that we shared with our friends, Jack and Jo Brinkerhoff, and the Krogen that they now refer to as 'the little trawler that could."
My fiancE Sally and I were on our trawler Hemisphere Dancer, anchored in Great Harbor in the northern extremes of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas, having been chased in by one of the famous winter northers. We were the only boat visible or on radar, as much due to the remote location as to the weather.
Later that day I spotted a familiar trawler outline on the horizon and picked up the VHF to see who else was crossing in this weather. Bodacious had not only crossed all the way from Florida, but was doing just fine thank you. 'Not so bad that we regretted leaving yesterday, but still glad to be here.'
Over the next several days we and the Bodacious crew sat out the front, exploring the Whale Cay area until it was time for Sally and me to make the 40-mile run to Nassau to meet a guest who was flying in. Of course this circumstance caused the wind gods to wake up, and we went to sleep in the lee of the anchorage knowing we would have a bumpy ride with seas right on the nose the next day. Little did we know.
The next morning, right at sunrise, I woke to the sound of Jack banging on my transom; he was in radio contact with a vessel in distress. As I joined him on my aft deck, he explained that a Bahamian fishing trawler had lost its rudder and therefore all steerage and was being blown by the now 25+ knot winds towards the reefs that line the Berrys. It seemed that we were the only boats in radio range.
This was a Bahamian conch boat, i.e., no radar, GPS, cell or sat phone, nothing. We could see very large breakers crashing through the inlet. The captain estimated that he was still several miles out, but he was just guessing and closing fast. The really bad news: Breakthrough was 65-feet long and all steel. I estimated her weight at over 100,000 pounds without the full load of conch they were carrying!
Jack and I never discussed not going. We both have been cruising long enough to firmly adhere to the cruisers code. Cruisers help. Period. We could at least get the crew off. What we did discuss was which boat to take. While my trawler is somewhat faster, she has a hard chine that causes her to roll-n-snap at slow speeds as when towing, and an elevated aft deck as she is an aft stateroom. Trying to lie beam-to in what looked like six- to eight-foot seas and rig towing lines was definitely a job for the Krogen.
So off we went, racing to the rescue like a herd of turtles. Sally stayed on board Hemisphere Dancer to act as radio relay.
First, we had to run the inlet. We had an outgoing tide right into a stiff headwind, and the currentnno kiddingnwas 3 knots on the stern. I expected we'd have to make a good 5 knots over ground to have any steerage from the rudders, and that the waves at the bow would be trying to stop us while the current would push our stern, turning our side to the breakers.
I kept waiting for the bow pounding but this never came. The Krogen just parted the waves gently. Jack was even able to slow down near the coral heads to less than a knot over the speed of the current, and the wine glass stern just did not present a flat target for the water to yaw us around.
After running the inlet, we were able to turn out of the channel where the current and wind were magnifying the waves. To reach the Breakthrough, we had to turn to a course that placed these waves just slightly forward of our beam on the starboard side. Once we passed the reef/shelf drop-off these waves calmed down to about six-footers and the period lengthened to about 10 to 12 seconds. Not great, but wonderful compared to what we had just come through. In fact, Jo began to serve hot coffee!
Did I mention that Bodacious does not have stabilizers? Yes, we were rolling, but with a long slow gentle motion that matched the seas. I have spent quite a bit of time on semi-displacement vessels in the 40- to 65-foot range, and their flop-and-stop motion can induce whiplash. Bodacious moved with the waves in a gentle, predictable motion that quickly became second nature so that we could move about the boat.
When we found Breakthrough the situation was chaotic. She was rolling over 45 degrees on her beam in the seas while the crew tried to maneuver around the decks piled high with conch shells.
With Jack in the pilothouse, me on the boat deck and Jo calling directions from the cockpit, we managed to maneuver close enough for me to toss our combined dock lines to Breakthrough and we rigged a bridle across the stern of Bodacious for towing. As soon as we engaged our engine and began to apply force it became apparent that this might not work. The little Krogen with the long keel and wine glass stern tracked very well, but the waves on the quarter of the flat-sterned fishing boat were causing it to yaw badly so that the bow with the tow line would drop and then yank back violently. Fifty-plus tons of yanking boat was too much. On larger waves the yaw and weight of the fishing boat would literally jerk us from 2 knots to a dead stop and then actually pull us backwards in the water.
We had Breakthrough engage her engines. She had no rudder, but if she could make headway then we could try to steer her rather than having a dead tow. This ended up working as long as we continually matched her speed, but her yawing made for slow and erratic going. It was over three hours before we could get Breakthrough the nautical mile-and-half back to the entrance of the cut between the cays.
Suffice it to say, we made it through. Thanks to a change in tide and some impressive piloting on Jack's part, we reached calm water and Breakthrough dropped an anchor and about 12 feet of rode which was probably all she had. After a few slap-on-the-back stories and some nice lobster from the grateful crew, we motored back over to my boat where Sally had been coordinating and monitoring our progress on the radio and was just glad to see us in one piece.
During our adventure, Sally and Jack had managed to contact the owners of Breakthrough in Nassau and arrange for a tug to retrieve the disabled conch boat. When the tug arrived at Whale Cay and saw the size of Breakthrough, the captain refused to tow her claiming that she was way to big and heavy for their 40-foot tug. By now the captain of Breakthrough was a raw nerve. He had been up drifting in heavy seas for 48 hours straight. He was about to have to throw 10,000 conchs back into the water or they would die waiting for another larger tug. You could hear his anger.
Tug: 'Mon, I's telling you sure, I ain' goan haul dat bot, an I serious mon. She too big an she goan wallaw like nobody bidnes in dem wave. Goan tear me part, serious.'
'Dis Breakthrough here, how you etink we get in here mon? Dat little boat ober dere done tow us! You try telling me dat little done tow us an you too small? Mon I be embarrass I was you.'
At this point Bodacious came up on the radio chanting 'We're the little boat that could! We're the little boat that could!' That was all the shame that the tug could take and she set about hooking up to the conch boat.
We had spent over six hours recovering Breakthroughnthrough an inlet with a stiff current into an opposing wind, laying to in heavy seas tossing lines, towing with seas on the stern quarter and maneuvering to run the inlet again with a 65-foot tow yawing wildly behind us. The little Krogen didn't slam, didn't yaw around, didn't drop out from under our feet or slap us up against bulkheads. She kept her course and moved smoothly with the seas. And I never spilled my hot coffee.
I would love to tell you that I was so impressed that I bought the company, but I decided to do the next best thing. I went to work for Krogen! Now I am helping people to realize their life-long dreams of cruising, exploring and savoring life on the water. And when I tell them that the Krogen is the most seakindly boat available, I have 10,000 conchs to back me up!