Writing about the capsize of The Aegre, the drawing depiction of it in the book and how the drawing led to a review of the book in Australia’s Afloat magazine.
In severe conditions, The Aegre was capsized and dismasted about 150 miles southwest of Tahiti.
A deep sea capsize isn’t something most sailors want to think about, and yet holds some macabre fascination. What happened? Did they survive? Perhaps the reader is thinking it could happen to them one day, and maybe they should pay attention.
For us, it was no Saturday afternoon event on the bay, with a rescue boat nearby, but 04:15 far out in the Pacific, with no possible help in any direction.
I was asleep below, and Julie was on watch in the cockpit. The weather had been worsening for 24 hours. By midnight the conditions were extremely bad, but we thought we had had as bad before. We were sailing slowly downwind under our tiny flax jib, slightly across the very large swell, the tops of which were breaking, and rolling forward with a roar, but rarely coming on board, The Aegre lifting to them as she always had, as they swept under the boat.
We changed watch at midnight as I describe in the Prologue to the book. I handed over to Julie, stripped off my wet weather gear, pulled the hatch shut behind me and collapsed on the bunk where I was nearly instantly asleep.
Four hours later it all went wrong.
Writing the story of what happened next, not just in the next hour, but over the next day, and the next, thirty-one days in all before we made it to land, I drew heavily on a diary we kept, writing in pencil in our Nautical Almanac which was the driest paper we could find. I still have it today, though now it’s barely legible.
But long ago Julie and I typed out a transcript of it. With this at hand, I could relive it, and tell the story of what we did and how it felt to overcome the initial fear of exhaustion and drowning if the boat rolled again as the storm reached its peak. But then as that crisis slowly passed it was replaced by the fear that without our sextant to navigate with, (lost just after the capsize) we might never find land, while our food and water slowly dwindled.
As I explain in the story, we pieced together all the navigation resources and knowledge we had and evolved a theory of how we could determine our position, and from there set a course for the most appropriate island(s). But the theory wasn’t in any textbook I’d ever read. I kept wondering if I was missing some essential reality. Would it work and take us to land? Or had I got it all wrong? But it was the best we could think of, and we pinned our lives on it.
Out there, as the weather eventually improved and we sailed on, we tried to trust our sextantless navigational thinking, but surrounded by the empty horizon day after day while our food and water diminished, we couldn’t help wondering if this was how it would all end? We made lists of things we would do if we survived, and as I write in the book, life assumed a new value.
Is there anything to be learnt from reading about the capsize experience of Julie and me in the book? Yes, probably. We ourselves applied knowledge gained from stories of other voyagers in crisis, and this probably saved our lives.
The drawing of The Aegre capsize above is by maritime artist and author John Quirke. I met John at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart, Tasmania, in February 2023. John was there to present at the ‘Meet the Authors’ Festival session, where he gave a wry and yet hilarious introduction to his latest book, ‘Quirky History – Maritime Moments most history books don’t mention’. (If you’ve ever wondered how the Somali Camel Corps captured a German U-boat in 1944, this is for you – available at all good book shops).
I was there myself spruiking my soon-to-be-published Aegre Voyage book. We got chatting and he offered to not only do the capsize drawing but also to feature my book in his regular column in the Australian magazine ‘Afloat’. You can read John Quirk’s review here.
Signed copies of the book, The Voyage of The Aegre – From Scotland to the South Seas in a Shetland Boat are available from this website here. It can also be purchased from Boat Books Australia, in the UK from Central Books, the Shetland Times Bookshop and other good bookshops, and in the rest of the world from Amazon.