Donna Lange’s amazing strength and courage

Posted By on April 17, 2007

Sorry readers, but my heart is telling me to share the ongoing ordeal that solo sailing Donna Lange continues to face. Her log posts shares and amazing story of seawomanship, strength and courage. (with a few miles of experience to help her through) I’ll preface her recent log entry with heavy weather sailing practices that many small sailing vessel use to survive vicious winds and waves.
One of many types of seaanchors
First, it is near impossible for a single handed sailor to stay on deck and manages seaway by sailing; fatigue is too great. Self-steering gear is usually overwhelmed by the waves and can’t maintain course on it own … that’s if it is not damage by powerful movement of wind and water. The wheel steering (or tiller in Donna’s case) and connected rudder also face unbelievable forces stressing even the best construction and require a ‘wise’ hand at the helm to preserve both the boat and the gear. For this reason small vessels resort to dragging ‘warps,’ drogue or a sea anchor to slow forward progress and keep from taking waves on the side of the boat. (diagram above shows one of many type of sea anchors)

With that introduction, I’ll quote Donna and let her finish the story … might want to check yesterday’s post (or the Google Earth Community plots) so the follow makes more sense?

0151UTC 2151local EST 1451NZ
Apr16th update: so much for the sea Anchor!!!
long story…

I had just finished all the updates and log, made
team calls just so everyone could hear that I was
alright, after the incredible storm last night…I
was looking forward to the day of resting and reflecting
abit, while not concentrating on the GPs or steering.
I took a hard hit to the beam, and i knew immediately
that something was wrong on deck. Since the anchor
was set, I hadn’t had any hits as hard as that…i
must be in a different orientation to the wind
and seas…Sure enough, as soon as my head popped
out the companionway, I looked to the sea anchor
and saw no tension on the line attached to the
boat….It was gone and I was just freely wallowing
as all the sails were down…Trouble. I was a sitting
duck for another wave to topple me..In moments
I had to assess how to make the transition to sitting
on the anchor to sailing while there was still
a horrendous storm screaming, gusts to 60+, dangerous
seas. I was so relieved toknow I wasn’t going
to try to deal with it but now I was forced to
sail underconditions I already decided were too
dangerous. I wasn’t dressed..the boat wallowing,
i made a quick duck for more clothes, hauled the
jib and set us off on a broad reach.. The day
was beyond any concept I had of a storm I would
ever sail. Truly it had escalated since thenight
before and the squall lines were massive and dark…
on after another, the boat continuosly a submarine,
I was drenched shortly and needed to go back in
to really donne all my gear.. I was already getting
cold. somehow i stablized the boa enough to get
downstairs. I was having trouble with the steering
vane. It seemed to be working but still was always
falling into the wind and I woould have to rescue
us from certain demise. I was going to have
to be on deck…I needed clothes. I got back on
deck. Very shortly it was obvious that there was
something wrong with the vane. It would be holding
course and then the rudder would go lax…something
not connecting right inside or something…it would
do fine at times but was completely unreliable…Inwardly
I am starting to panic. memories of the crossing
to Ireland flood my nervous system with terror
and hurt. Why was it so hard? How could this
be happening? the storm was just massive….The
squalls went from horrors to nightmare as I struggled
hour by hour to keep courses and stable in pummeling
rain storms, winds shrieking near hurricane force.
my face pricked like with pins by the small rain,
but I had to shelter my face from the torrents.
It was too narly cloud after
another with no breaks.. Yes there was beauty too
as the sun poked through with warmth everyonce
in a while… as sunset approached, the sky deepend
with black clouds and walls of rain….It occured
to me that this storm was taking the form of the
big storms elsewhere in my trip. 6hours build
up, and a huge storm, then the winds clock and
the real storm begins, but usually along dusk,
the next shift occurs and the storm begins to abate….
It brought hope that maybe these would be the final
gusts..nearly 0visibility, horizontal rain. I
was not just wet but drenched to the point of puddles
in my clothes as the rain had found it’s way into
my collar and puddled in my clothes.. I was wetter
than the night before after the swim. Fear was
truly getting the best of me… I was cold and
I know what hypoothermia can do. I just couldn’t
afford to get that cold,but how was I going to
get away from the till? … I decided to try hoving
to one mnore time, chancing putting the main up
as it was just too much sail in these conditions.
I managed to get it set up and flying but still
found that no matter how I adjusted the main,
I was still falling to beam and just too vulnerable
to a roll. But as I did a fast dash to get the
main down once I turned the boat around, I suddenly
recalled an old trick. In the cross to Ireland,
I would simply put the boat on a closehaul, perfectly
balance with right amount of sail and it wouldnt’
need any tiller at all, it would jst balance perfect
as long as there wasn’t any huge gusts…it was
then I realized that the seas ‘had’ taken a new
shape and that the storm may truly be winding down..
Once the main was down and tucked away, I simply
trimmed the jib closehauled and let go of the tiller.
Sure enough, she balanced perfect and was still
on a course close enough to the wind that the seas
did not break on her side… I had to hve just
the right amount of sail and she was sailin on
her own. I have never been so ready for a cup
of tea in my iife. a reprieve…I would tnink
about some of the other tactics I used to use when
the vane was gone and see if I couldn’t get us
on a better courese tomorrow. Close hauled I was
going SW. I didn’t care as long as the boat was
safe and I wasn’t in the cockpit, cold and saoked
to the bone. I truly had been through all the
emotions considering having to steer all night…
and 2 more days…I was beside myself distaught
and then I would talk myself to a calm. During
the 60-70kn rains and gust, i sang ‘peace still
the raging storm’.. (ouch, just took a big hit.,
the change to a lose beam is really too close to
beam and the seas are breaking on us. luckily,
the storm and seas are waning.) I feel safe from
a roll or capsize at this point…The steering
vane may work with less challengin conditions.
It is somewhere slipping past a spot so that no
longer does the movement of the vane above, move
the little linkage that makes the servo rudder
move. The lines inside are fine. I climbed in
to look. It is in the vane itself…The hardest
point of sail to balance is downwind and that is
our course to Bermuda. Did I say, that once Ihad
to go back to sailing the boat, I decided to head
to Bermuda and get off the sea as quick as possible.
there is a storm heading for BErmuda and only unfavorable
winds ahead. “I GIVE UP.” I can’t make it north
in these conditions and then there is the gulf
stream to deal with. George from Commander weather
has been helpful with information and helping me
decide…My fear is that once in Bermuda, it will
be quite a long time til I will get favorable winds
to sail east… they are rare and certainly, now
a days, non existent…but I really have no other
choices but to go back to the carib…BErmuda is
expensive …. lovely…shoot. If I will be delayed
there long, Will has said the gang would get me
home and then I would return when the conditions
are right. I don’t know anything about how it
will all work out. I really can’t concern with
that now… truly, the sea is in a tizzy… and
I need to get off safely.. I really have had
a rough time, but I must say it has been incredible…
the sights, the intensity, the creative solutions…
it is a culmination of all I have been doing these
last years. And I am safe… It isn’t very far
to Bermuda, as even on the sea anchor I was drifting
that way. I am going in circles but getting a
bit closer. Only 2 1/2 degrees east and a few
south. HOwever, even with laying off a bit, I
am only sailing south. so in lieu of having to
get back out there tonight, I will accept a few
extra miles south and then tomorrow I will till
on course then hopefully rig a better point for
the night…But I should be in Bermuda by the 18th,
I am exhausted and will get some rest.. The wind
is really calming and the skies relatively clear
accept for a gusty cloud here and there.. I may
get a bit of sleep and if I get motivated, get
out there tongith to keep a better course. But
if it is raining and to rough., I will wait til
morn…all safe….phew. The seas really became
breaking mountains today.. I have been on the edge
of my seat and the tilling took alot of leverage…I
should sleep well, well for all of an hour or so
at a time that i get…. Here comes another big
gust.. Just a bit ago, the jib did tack itself
so too big a gust is a problem still… Here is
a big gust….shoot. goin on deck is surely a wet
experience….got to go . BAck. God, it is cold
and wet out there. Iam shaking cold after just
2 min. but hopefully the jib is better… The cabin
is pretty warm. Really, it wasn’t too cold today
or I couldn’t have been that wet that long… but
it is cold now. No matter what, one way of anoher,
the boat is goin to have to tend itself… Sleep.
my eyes are jsut too heavy. I haven’t eaten much
today, but it will wait til I get some rest…Iknow
of a 24 hour kitchen local… thank you so deeply
for your prayers. the worst of this situation
should be over now…. muchlove and biggest hugs….
xoxoxox d.


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