A couple of years ago I worked on a 50-m CRN motor yacht, chartering heavily in the Med & Caribbean. Like many other yachts we crossed the Atlantic twice a year and we were all
quite experienced in the preparation of a crossing. We had encountered
some very heavy weather before, but we had never had serious problems.
We came from America and were heading for Gibraltar, and with only 24 hours to go when we drove into some bad weather. The weather worsened and the green water came over the bridge. We drove strait into the waves, but besides a single bilge alarm everything was fine.
The bilge alarm was off the forepeak, so I activated the pneumatic bilge pump from the control room; however, the alarm light stayed on. The weather was too rough to go outside, so I informed the captain and we decided to leave it as it was. But soon we realised the bow came deeper into the water by every wave we took, so the captain decided that we would stop the boat and inspect the fore peak.
The vessel slowed down and we walked over to the fore deck. Although we had no forward movement anymore, the big waves still smashed on deck. My second engineer opened the fore peak hatch and I jumped into it, standing straight away up
to my middle in water; my second closed the hatch above me. We removed the power to the area before, so with my little Maglite I tried to find the leak; suddenly we plunged into a gap between two big waves.
My stomach came up like I was in a roller coaster and the forepeak transformed into one giant washing machine where the water was going everywhere. Ilost grip, dropped my Maglite and I didn't know anymore what was up and what was down.
In complete darkness I desperately tried to find something to hold onto while the washing machine kept swirling the water around. Luckily we had a moment of calm water outside and the water calmed down inside as well. I could feel again what was
up, so I could take a gulp of air and picked up the Maglite, which was clearly visible on the floor plates. I quickly cleaned the strainer of the pneumatic bilge pump that was blocked by a rag (which must have been floating around in the water before)
when another wave came over.
Better prepared this time I held on for my life and I could see where the water was coming from.
Although we thought we were well prepared for the crossing, we completely forgot to properly close the spurling pipe (the pipe going down to the anchor chain locker, where the anchor chain runs through).
Through this pipe we flooded the forepeak completely and I almost lost my life because of this. It is therefore of utmost importance to check every gap, pipe, hatch, door and everything else where water can enter inside the vessel, as heavy
weather may be so severe that you can't do anything about it anymore until it's too late.
A good way to test this is from the outside using a charged fire hose, as big waves have a similar pressure as a fire hose. I know the boat gets all salty, but it is better than risking, or even losing, your life and/or vessel in bad weather.
Chief Engineer Edgar van Eden