"There's water over the floorboards." That's not what you want to hear at 7 p.m. on a dark night at sea.
But that's the news that Marion Dallond of St. Barth had for her boyfriend, Tom Perry, captain of the CNB 77 Four Devils, and crew Edmund Murray, also of St. Barth.
Tom and Marion couldn't have been more stunned. They'd been on the 10-year-old luxury yacht — $25,000 a week — for three years, had done the summer in Croatia, and had most recently sailed her 4,000 miles across the Atlantic to St. Barth. When the bad news came on the evening of March 2, they were 25 miles NNE of St. Martin on their way to Martinique to pick up the French owner for a month-long cruise.
The situation could have been worse — it was calm and there was only a four-foot swell. "It would have been pretty bad two weeks ago when it was blowing 30 knots and there was a big swell," agrees Tom. "But safety first, so Eddie and I got the liferaft ready and put the tender over the side. We quickly checked all the obvious places for the source of the ingress of water, but couldn't find anything. We would later strap tarps over the side to see if that would help, but there was no noticeable effect."
Tom then got on the satellite communication system and emailed the owner that they had water coming in, were in distress, and needed help. He also put out a mayday on VHF, which was picked up in Fort de France, Martinique, 200 miles away. Either it was a good radio bounce or the French have some sort of relay system. Fortunately, the mayday was also picked up by the Dutch navy ship Rotterdam, which sent a helicopter in advance, and immediately began steaming toward Four Devils.
By 7:45 p.m., Four Devil's engine died, and with it her bilge pumps. Tom got his crew off the boat and into the tender, with the liferaft streaming behind. He'd also paid out all the chain to keep the hull from being destroyed in the off chance she drifted up close to an island.
The Rotterdam arrived at about 9:30 p.m., and their smaller rescue boat reached the Four Devils crew about 10 minutes later. The Four Devils crew was taken to the Rotterdam for a medical and general assessment. Hey, it's the Caribbean, so for all the Rotterdam crew knew, the boat could have been filled with drugs, illegal immigrants or who knows what.
After Tom had a discussion with the Rotterdam engineers, they returned to Four Devils with some pumps to try to keep her afloat. But it soon became clear there was nothing they could do. A salvage tug appeared on the scene, decided there was nothing they could do either, and left. The captain of the Rotterdam was nice enough to stand by, so the Four Devils crew got to see the Four Devils' hull go under at about midnight, and the top of the mast disappear about two hours later. Four Devils is now 600 meters down, having joined countless other sailing vessels on the floor of the Caribbean Sea.
A former oysterman on Long Island sound before becoming a professional skipper 25 years ago, Tom Perry knows his stuff. He'd run J Class Yachts and skippered a number of mega sailing yachts to a string of important victories in Caribbean sailing regattas. We asked him how many times he's heard of large boats suddenly sinking.
"Oh, maybe five or six. But big motoryachts sink more frequently than big sailboats. Big Eagle sank in the Med, Miss Turnberry sank off St. Martin, and there was another big motoryacht that went down off Puerto Rico. And aluminum boats tend to fail catastrophically. But we have absolutely no idea what happened to Four Devils, as we've been actively sailing her for a long time and had just sailed her across the Atlantic. We can only speculate that she must have hit something that caused major damage to the hull."
Having had a great gig with a great owner for three years, Tom and Marion's futures are unclear. "We'll have to see if the owner wants to get another boat or not," says Tom. But the couple, who are good friends of Latitude's, have a backup plan, having purchased a great house in a small French village in the mountains an hour north of Nice. "Located in a beautiful little village, the house has three floors and six bedrooms, and it will be a great place for us to have a Chambre d'hote — bed & breakfast — and to raise a family."
Of course, you can't take sailing out of Tom's body any more than you can take the blood out. "We're also planning to get a classic 10 Meter — a sistership to Cotton Blossom that Dennis Conner restored — for chartering in the Med. In fact, there's one such 10 Meter, Hope, on San Francisco Bay. So we'll just have to see."
So much for the crew. How is the owner taking the loss of his yacht, particularly on the eve of a much anticipated month-long cruise? "Not very well," admits Perry.
Here is a link to the website with pics of this beauty:
via Latitude 38