Alder Coles Heavy Weather Sailing

Excerpt from Alder Coles Heavy Weather Sailing

On Sunday November 11, 1962, Curlew left Mystic Ct. bound for the Caribbean where she was to go into charter service. Skippered by Captain David Skellon, an Englishman, and first mate Ed Owe, a Connecticut sailor, she set off in a fresh nor-wester. The two of them were the only deep water sailors aboard, so they had to take turns night and day at the helm as the weather worsened. By Wednesday morning the wind was northerly at about force ten, and Curlew was running under bare poles.A number of troubles had already developed, the most serious being the failure of the breaking screw that kept the proper shaft from turning, and a bad leak in the propeller shaft packing. The bilge pump operated by the main engine seemed only just capable of keeping ahead of the leak. The storm steadily increased during Wednesday and through the night. Curlew had entered the Gulf Stream, where the seas became more dangerous. In the second watch the following morning she suffered her first real broach, and was knocked flat on her beam ends for almost 3 minutes before she slowly righted. After straightening the yacht’s course out before the storm, the crew streamed a 3 inch diameter warp astern in a long loop, with drags lashed to it. On Thursday the seas were higher than ever and the wind was estimated as gusting 75 – 80 knots. At 0700 a mountainous sea broke over the full length of the ship and stove in the main cabin skylight. As a result of mayday calls to Bermuda, Curlew was spotted by a search plane and at 1400 the 663ft. USS Compass Island (EAG 153), research vessel in the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile Program, hove into sight.

The yacht then continued to run under bare poles on her course for Bermuda, with the USS Compass Island standing by and giving course instructions by radio telephone. That night, Curlew, under a lee created by the USS Compass Island, succeeded in getting within a quarter of a mile of the flashing buoy off St. George’s harbor. Shelter was at last at hand. But the wind must have shifted, and it was so violent that no further progress could be made against it, even with the help of her powerful engine. It was impossible to gain harbor and Curlew had to run off. By then the yacht’s condition was critical and, as the weather forecast predicted a continuance of the storm for another 24 hours, it was decided to run off and abandon her.


Curlew maneuvered alongside under the lee of USS Compass Island, but in doing so broke her bowsprit and carried away her foremast and shrouds against the ship’s sides. Nevertheless, all the crew were rescued by Compass Island without injury by means of cargo nets – a creditable performance at night with winds little below hurricane force. Three days later it was reported that Curlew had been sighted. She was located and rescued by Robert (Bob) Jervisoni, who oversaw her re-fitting at St. George’s harbor, in the Virgin Islands. By then there was some 5 feet of water above the cabin sole and everything below had been smashed, but after surveying it was found that the hull was undamaged. All her seams and fastenings were as good as new. She is Everdur fastened, mahogany planked over white oak, with teak decks. Curlew’s was a remarkable survival of a storm stated to be the largest low pressure in the area for 40 years. The 56 foot schooner Windfall, which left Mystic at the same time as Curlew on the same course to Bermuda, sank in the storm. Nine other ships were in distress at the same time as Curlew, and altogether, the sea on this occasion claimed over a 144 lives.