12 Lessons from a Mid-Ocean Collision

JollyDogs Before the CollsionCourtesy Mark Hardesty

JollyDogs, the Hardesty’s 2008 Seawind 1160 cruising catamaran before it was damaged in a mid-ocean collision with an unknown floating object on the high seas.

Mark and Isabel Hardesty have lived aboard their Seawind 1160, JollyDogs, since 2014 and logged more than 26,000 ocean miles, visiting places in Mexico, French Polynesia, and Hawaii, from where they wanted to return to the U.S. mainland in spring 2021. It was on the last leg of their trip, 1,400 miles northeast of Hawaii and 1,600 miles from their destination on the U.S. mainland, that a mid-ocean collision with an unknown floating object (UFO) occurred, damaging the starboard bow. After making some improvised repairs in mid-ocean (see: “Unbowed,” PBB 198), they patiently nursed their damaged boat to Port Townsend, Wash., to get permanent repairs made, which was a journey in and by itself. here Mark shares some of the lessons he and his wife took away from this incident.

  • Our insurer, Lloyd’s of London, was represented by a surveyor from AqualisBraemar, who witnessed the haulout and took our statements. We soon understood that JollyDogs had suffered a “whiplash” incident, prompting inspections of fuel tank mounts, engine mounts, sail-drive diaphragm seals, and the standing rigging. In addition to the bow repair by Johnson Fabrication, in Port Townsend, Washington, we hired Brion Toss Yacht Riggers to replace all standing rigging, and SEA Marine to replace the starboard sail-drive diaphragm seal.
    Bow Inspection of Collision DamageCourtesy Mark Hardesty

    A diver inspecting the damaged bow in port was part of the insurance survey.

  • I like to note that we ended up in the role of project managers, a necessary job that is not covered by our insurance policy, which specifically notes that owners aren’t to be compensated for their efforts. We spent countless hours dismantling the boat and removing all our belongings in preparation for the messy repair efforts. Virtually all of the many local storage facilities were sold out, but we finally found a storage locker about 10 miles (16 km) away.
  • Everything took more time than we could have imagined—eight months from haulout to relaunching, with the boat uninhabitable for much of that time. The lack of affordable short-term local housing made living nearby and working on the boat expensive and challenging. Perhaps the impact of COVID coupled with a difficult housing market also limited the available workforce. Almost six weeks passed before we could get inspections of the rigging and propulsion, then many months to get the issues addressed, simply due to everyone’s work backlog. Supply chain issues also delayed repair schedules.
    Bow Damage Sustained in Mid-Ocean CollisionCourtesy Mark Hardesty

    The Pacific is filling the cavity that was left by the destroyed part of the starboard bow. It was a test of the plywood collision bulkhead that held, but had to be reinforced  before continuing the journey.

  • It has been interesting to reflect on just how confused and even in denial we were immediately following the impact. Rather than conducting a quick inspection for damage or leaks, we assumed we were victims of a particularly vicious wave impact, because we saw nothing in the water. When we realized our predicament the psychological and emotional challenges became apparent. It was a mid-ocean collision, so we were a long way from land and worried we could lose our home, perhaps even our lives. Both of us made extreme efforts to support each other, to maintain cheery dispositions, and sometimes just to keep a stiff upper lip. We communicated our fears and concerns openly, avoided harsh words and emotional meltdowns, and as Isabel would say, remained “on the case.”
  • Until 2019 we used our SSB with Pactor 4 modem and a SailMail account with great success for all our long-range voice and digital communications. Prior to departing for French Polynesia in April 2019 we purchased an Iridium GO and PredictWind unlimited data plan with 150 talk minutes per month to enhance our safety and system redundancy. We have enjoyed cruising SSB and Ham nets and were the volunteer Polynesian Magellan Net managers for a year. However, the fidelity and ease of interpretation of the PredictWind weather-forecasting products combined with the low power use and overall reliability of the Iridium GO e-mail and text communications ultimately made it our go-to communications system. The forecast data products were accurate, allowing us to avoid adverse weather.
    High Sea Collision RepairCourtesy Mark Hardesty

    The crew of the research vessel Amber that diverted for assistance came on board to help with the jury rig repairs, which included lacing a piece of fishing net over the bow cavity to keep foam pieces in place that reduced the water pressure on the collision bulkhead under way.

  • We have discovered our people in the cruising community, and it is amazing how we find ways to help one another. The crew of Lady Amber are absolute rock stars, and the list of others who pitched in from afar is long. During our stressful weeks at sea we received heartwarming e-mails from strangers offering encouragement and complimenting us on our seamanship. We even heard from a marine architect who felt certain the collision bulkhead would easily make the journey.
  • Making improvised repairs after a mid-ocean collision revealed what was practical while hove-to and sloshing about. Old-style hand tools or air tools are probably the only reasonable way to drill and saw when being splashed with salt water. The most useful tools we had on board were a battery-powered drill/screwdriver, a jigsaw, a Fein oscillating tool with various blades and sanding attachment, a Dremel tool with a selection of implements, a heat gun, a hot-glue gun, and a hacksaw. Having a small Honda generator as an emergency power source allowed us to operate tools and onboard systems such as the watermaker and water heater without depleting batteries or burning diesel, which we might need for propulsion.
  • In retrospect, the jerrican fairing probably would have quickly failed simply due to wave action and structural loading. Wrapping and securing sailcloth around the complex bow shape might have been possible in dead calm conditions, but even those who suggested the idea didn’t believe it would remain in place for more than a few days. Also, the risk of a sailcloth fairing breaking loose and fouling the starboard rudder or prop seemed high. Ultimately, the net worked well and remained in place because we managed to secure it well to the boat structure. We inspected the “bow Band-Aid” often and never noted any deterioration of the fastenings. Even after 14 days under way it still retained full structural integrity.
    Cut-up Jerrycan for collision repairCourtesy Mark Hardesty

    A cut-up jerrican that the crew strapped across the open bow served as an impromptu fairing that needed  support by other items to stay in palce. A selection of “hoarded” spares and other supplies proved to be useful for making jury-rig repairs that enabled JollyDogs to proceed  after the collision.

  • The useful materials we had on board or that rescuers brought along included various-size scraps of plywood and other small timbers, a selection of fasteners including wood screws, machine screws, and nuts with wide-area washers, and a quart epoxy kit with slow hardener. We had fiberglass biaxial cloth, milled fiberglass fiber, and cotton flux for thickener along with mixing cups, stir sticks, and epoxy syringes. The various buoyant objects that we stuffed into the external bow cavity and the heavy 1”-square section of fishing net were invaluable, along with about 150’ of 1/4” double braid left over from building new lazy jacks. As an alternative to some of the closed-cell-foam objects, several cans of expandable foam might have been helpful in filling the upper bow cavity to better address the waves pounding on the collision bulkhead.
  • Soon after this mid-ocean collision we contacted friends, both former USCG helicopter rescue pilots, to understand the response if we declared an emergency. They first reminded us to check and lubricate the zippers on our cold-water immersion suits, review our life raft procedures, check and charge batteries in handheld radios and lights, make sure our passports and ships papers were in our ditch bag, and strap an EPIRB to our head if we had to abandon the boat. We were instructed not to be shy and or to wait till the situation became dire before contacting the USCG. They advised that the response would address the situation, so if we felt we had to abandon JollyDogs, the closest ship would be diverted to rescue us. If we were taking on water but felt we could save the vessel, a C-130 would likely be launched from Kodiak, Alaska, to drop us a pump pallet.
  • There was a time when we accused one another of hoarding and overloading the boat. Isabel seemed to always be provisioning for a zombie apocalypse, and I had bits of plywood, aluminum extrusions, wiring, fiberglass, ropes, and tools hidden in various bilge spaces. When this mishap occurred and we simply didn’t know how long it might take to reach land, Isabel noted she could keep us fed for at least another 30 days. I might have depleted all my epoxy resin and plywood scraps but had tools and spares to keep critical systems working. Self-sufficiency is part and parcel to bluewater and remote-area cruising.
  • Ultimately, our successful outcome involved luck, the support of the cruising community and close friends, and a lot of very hard work. When we wondered if we would have to abandon our home, as time passed, our confidence in ourselves and our chances of a successful landfall grew. The repairs have made JollyDogs as good as new, and we’ve found Port Townsend interesting, which helps if you have to make an unplanned stop.