Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Serena down - the reality of the ocean's power hits home

Just when my irrational sailing fears are subsiding and I am looking forward to each sail, the reality of the dangers come crashing into my face, in front of my face to be precise. There I was, innocently sipping a Diet Coke, surfing in some wifi zone, my face illuminated by my computer screen, when JW pointed out an article he’d found on noonsite. The 38’ sailing vessel Serena had been abandoned at sea off the coast of Spain….
It struck me with a sinking feeling in the stomach, that we know that boat, in fact the crew of Serena are good friends we’d last heard from when they set sail across the Atlantic, headed for Europe a couple months ago….
“Oh my god! Are they ok?!”
I read the article with quick breaths, looking for the key words, and found them – ‘rescued’, ‘safe’…. Sigh of relief. But they had suffered through a gargantuan storm and they had lost their boat, having been lifted into a helicopter and watching their home and precious vessel dwindling into the distance among the crashing waves below as they flew away….
It’s been on my mind for days. They were/are the sweetest people! They had already done an ocean crossing. They were so friendly and calm and knowledgeable. How could this happen to them?! To someone we know!
And the truth just sits there, like a quickly eaten warm donut in your belly. It is doughy and makes you uneasy as it’s hard to digest.
The truth is that this can happen to ANYONE on a boat. No matter how nice or what an expert you might be, a storm can strike and your lives can be in danger. Your life can change in an instant. And if you are lucky, your experience and all your preventative gadgets will be applicable, accessible - to help make the difference between life and death.
Luckily for Hentii and Arja, they were able to access their EPIRB, and help came. But it took the rescue team 8 hours. That is 480 minutes in 20 meter (60 ft) waves, clinging to the remnants of their boat, smashing, crashing, water washing away their dreams…. Terror unimaginable previously. But they survived.
They are not the only tragic story we have heard lately either. But they hold a special place in my heart, and so it was this story that hit me so hard.
Serena's salon table - set for supper

 As clear as if it were yesterday, I remember coming down into Serena’s warm homey salon. Arja had decorated and filled the boat with the cutest European charm, and the whole boat was filled with the aroma of her home-cooked creamy mushroom soup. And though the swell rocked us through supper, we laughed and ate and drank, and afterwards Hentii set up his microphone and amp and serenaded us and the nearby boats with his amazing Elvis renditions. It was a lovely evening. It’s unlikely I’d ever forget it.
Great food and great friends - supper on Serena

Elvis is in the house!
And as I sit here now, imagining Arja and Hentii in the aftermath of their disaster, soaked and possessionless, without passports or dry clothes, I wish we’d been there to lend a hand. And a hug. And just to let them know how brave and great they are.
And deep down my hug would mean even more. That it’s such a wonderful miracle they survived, and how they are an inspiration above the fear that their ordeal has generated.
It’s humbling more than anything else. We play and frolic in these waves, we call the ocean home. But we are truly small and powerless in the face of the unpredictable giant.
It’s easy to forget, when I peer over the edge of the boat into the clear turquoise that invites me to jump in and cool off.
But it’s a relationship of respect, admiration and forgiveness it seems.
I wrote to Arja this week and she explained that they are now living in a tiny apartment, fighting with the insurance companies, trying to find jobs. She is blogging... The search continues for Serena, which may be floating or beached somewhere along the coast of Portugal...
What could be the fate of Serena...
 But in their heart of hearts, the sailing dream is still alive. And one day, they will be out here again. Sailing the ocean blue.


  1. Hope and prayers are sent their way. This is the life we chose and the risks we have to live with. They're alive and safe! Thnx for sharing Holi.

  2. Thanks for your willingness to address the toughest of topics. A moving tribute.


  3. It would be interesting to find stats on the cruising boats lost at sea. There are remarkably few relative to the huge number floating around the world. Being at sea in a small boat is probably safer than flying.
    Having said that, the number of cruisers I have met in the EC who don't fear the power of the sea, surprises me.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. Not surprising that it would set you back on your heels, even if the folks aboard weren't friends. A horrifying experience and very sad to lose a beloved boat/home. Thanks to safety precautions, including survival know-how, and use of rescue agents, they survived.
    Certainly the power of water must be respected and all safety precautions taken, as I'm very sure they did. Anyone who has spent any time on the water knows its powerful beyond imagination and demands respect.
    Are you safer on land? I don't the statistics to compare, but every day lives are lost on land, driving down a highway. Within feet of other vehicles also traveling at high speeds, it only takes one wrong move by one driver for an ugly accident to occur. Talk about trust. We put a lot of trust in our fellow drivers. Driving is a very dangerous activity and yet an acceptable activity; and not labeled as dangerous as sailing, which is seen by many as an unacceptably dangerous activity. Personally, I'd rather be sailing.
    I'm glad your friends are okay. Be safe and enjoy!

  5. I live on the sea, Positano used to be a tiny fishermans village and there's an ancient saying here that says: "At sea there are no taverns"
    It means one has to always be respecftul of the sea and always fear it, because its power is gargantuan.
    I am glad your friends are safe and hope they can solve their problems and possibly find the Serena. A bit of a long shot, I know.