Mother Goose

Design number: 55 Year: 1985

The Sad Loss of Mother Goose

The following account by owner Michael Dunkerley describes Mother Goose’s final days.

‘After a disappointing OSTAR I had sailed alone down from Southern Ireland to Horta, Faial in the Azores between the 5th and 12th September 1996 and wanted to take the boat back to Brest, her home port, for the winter. Nothing major to be done but the usual bottom and deck maintenance.

The start of the Vendée Globe Round the World race was 3rd November from Les Sables d’Olonne. I spoke to my friends in the Brest Met Office and with of course a final check to be made before departure, there was nothing particularly evil in the forecast, I made arrangements to arrive in Horta on 4th November. I wanted to have some company on the voyage and Joel Lannilis, a competitor in many Mini Transat races and an experienced delivery skipper lives on the Ile d’Ouessant like me and I was delighted when he agreed to come.

Mother Goose looked well in Horta Marina, we fuelled, bought our provisions and checked the weather on the Internet satellite pictures as well as on our Weather Fax on board. High Pressure was on the menu for the first few days followed by south westerlies – ideal conditions for our proposed route. We left Horta on Wednesday 6th November as 1200Z. The spinnaker was up as soon as we had cleared the Horta Channel and we had a lovely sail till nightfall. The next few days were High Pressure weather, unfortunately we were just on the eastern edge of the high so had North Easterlies but of Force 4 or 5 and we made good progress in a Northerly direction. On the 10th – at noon our position was 43.44N 21.26W – we picked up the South Westerlies and made good progress under a full main And yankee which we then poled out, then under main and staysail and then with a reef in the main we were surfing at 14.7 knots – well, that was the fastest we saw – our steady speed was between 8 and 10 knots. The nights were starlit and not at all cold and we got up to the latitude of Cape Finisterre and about 850 miles west of it.

Our weather fax had been giving us good and reasssuring maps from Northwood but during the day of the 10th we received a map showing a depression to our east with 3 associated fronts. It became windier, about 35 knots and we decided that we would sail fast through the fronts and back into the high pressure system so clearly marked as following them. We soon had 48 knots of apparent wind with a boat speed of 8 knots – we thought we were close to the centre of the depression and would soon be out of it. We thought we had counted ourselves through the three fronts but no it just got windier and the seas bigger. I asked Portishead to give me the forecaster at Bracknell and he warned of Storm Force 10 in our area and predicted it would vary between 8 and 10 for the next few days.

We had nothing to worry about – a well found boat, an experienced crew. We had set the storm trysail during the night but were still flying along at about 7 knots. We streamed warps to slow us down and as dawn broke we were knocked down. The seas were enormous – no point us trying to estimate them but we knew they were dangerous – we had been hooked on for a few days but ths wave caught up with us breaking just under our port quarter – the barometer had been in free fall for days and now we were – the boat seemed to twist at the same time as heeling over – I did not see the mast touch the water but when she came upright our pocket hankerchief of unfurled jib was in shreds as was our storm trysail – as if someone had cut it with a knife along the luff. Below was chaos. All the things so carefully stowed were thrown from the port side to starboard – and water everywhere. There were no leaks before and the companionway hatch had been closed – suddenly there was a foot of water rushing about in the bottom of the boat. The floorboards of the cabin sole were scattered about the interior. I opened the heads door and two feet of water surged out, I looked in the engine compartment and the sump was covered by water. I pumped while Joel sailed the boat attempting to bring her head slightly into the wind when he saw a larger than normal wave coming. Then we were knocked down again and the rudder stuck hard to port – no steerage – not that it made any difference.Below I found that the autopilot had been forced over centre and had jammed the rudder. I undid the connecting link and we once again had steerage. The water appeared to be coming from the area of the prop shaft going through the hull. Why was there more water after the rudder had been forced over? Or was there really any more? Was there a crack in the skin of the hull? Were the keelbolts coming loose? The batteries just forward of the engine would soon be flooded, the engine would stop, would the hull leak deteriorate? Was the hull breaking up?

I went on deck and reported the current state to Joel – we agree that we had no future on board Mother Goose and I pressed the EPIRB. I called Portishead and gave a MAYDAY – it is 1200Z on Monday 11th November our position is 42.51.725N 18.01.778W. Activated an aero ELT and called MAYDAY on a hand held aero radio. A Cuban Airways pilot replied and I asked him to relay our position to Shanwick. I also transmitted blind on 1282. I called Portishead as an hour had passed, power would not last long. Falmouth Coastguard had appointed Punta Delgada in the Azores as MRCC, a Portuguese Air Force aircraft would fly over us at 1620Z and the City of Albany was estimating to be with us at 0200 on the 12th. I updated Portishead on our position another couple of times. Then the engine stopped. The batteries were flooded soon afterwards – no GPS, no lights except torches, no SSB and only a hand held VHF with batteries. We kept one panel of the hatch open to vent the fumes from the batteries.

The aeroplane came and went – we spoke to him on Channel 16. Night came at 1800 – we dozed a bit and kept a watch after midnight. At about 0145 on 12th November I heard Hual Lisita and Corner Brook talking to each other and Hual Lista being first on the scene was to try to come alongside us – she is a car carrier and positioned downwind of us hoping I suppose that we would drift down on her and that once alongside we would be able to enter by a side door in her high-sided hull, but the windage was enormour and Hual Lisita drifted away from us.

Corner Brook was in our north, I fired more flares and showed a white torch light. Corner Brook told us on Ch. 16 that she was making an approach – she had positioned upwind of us – but just as we came into her wind shadow Mother Goose surged towards Corner Brook’s stern and she pulled away to make another attempt; she turned and bore down on us again putting us alongside exactly amidships. We had failed to pick up a heaving line – 2 ladders and 2 lines with bites were dropped and a rescuer arrived on our foredeck where Joel was waiting with our 3 bags lashed together (a waterproof “going away” bag with a few flares and 2 survival suits and a bag each with some personal effects). Our mast is 17 metres and it was disappearing in the troughs during the rescue. The deck of Corner Brook would be 5 metres above the sea in calm conditions but we were surging up and down next to her; I saw that Joel had a hand on his ladder, I dashed down below to unscrew the last threads on the log so that Mother Goose would sink rapidly. On deck the mast was broken at the top spreaders and our rescuer had come aft and helped me onto the ladder – a false start and we were down in a trough again and between the two ships’ sides. My rescuer propelled me up the ladder, I could not have made it by myself, on deck I could not stand unaided. Joel was safe.

Corner Brook had saved our lives and Mother Goose was lost.’

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