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My wife and I had bought the boat, an Elan 43, earlier in the summer in Croatia and planned to sail her to Sweden for a upgrade and a live aboard as preparation for a world cruise. I have worked as a skipper in both charters and deliveries, mostly Mediterranean but sometimes Franc-BVI, so we have some experience. In Sweden I used to work as an ARMY NCO 1 sergeant, but now me and my wife run a small marina on the east coast, Oskarshamn. We had left Mahon on the east side of Menorca around midday on Thursday, November 10th. We went straight for Ciudadella on the south west corner on the Island, going for engine because of the wind direction.
After maybe 4 hours we rounded the lighthouse at the South-East corner of the Island and we got better wind coming in from the side, about 22knots. We then decided to set the fore sails to reduce the rolling of the boat and to make some more speed. Then we sailed with both the engine running at low Rpm and sail doing good 6/7knots when suddenly the sails blew out from the furlex both in the bottom and then all the way up to the genua halyard. I ran out on the foredeck to try to get the sail down while my wife steered against the wind. This was a bit problematic because of the high waves but we eventually managed to secure the sail and started to steer against the town of Ciutadella again.
Almost instantly after we got the course right, the engine started to lose power and then completely die on us. We then drifted quick against the cliffs. We sent out a mayday on the VHF, but because of the cliffs, the reception was very bad. We then tried on the mobile phone and that worked better. They told us it would take them 40 minutes minimum to get there and there were no other ships nearby. Pretty much simultaneously, my wife talked to them on the phone as we closed in on the cliffs. When she hung up on them she said that is was time to board the life raft, mostly because of the risk of being smashed between the boat and the cliffs and the risk of the mast breaking and crashing down at us. The raft was stored in the aft and was easy to just pull in the water. We got in the raft and we were lucky enough that without the pressure from the wind we drifted out about 40m from the cliff. After 2 minutes in the raft we heard the first big smash when the mast broke and crashed down in the cockpit. In that minute, I think we first realized that it could have been dangerous for us not just for the boat. We got hold of the Spanish coastguard and then arrived to the scene just a 50min after first contact.
We learned a few things from the experience. The first thing is the positioning of the raft. I have sailed a couple of hundred charter boats and almost all of them have the raft on the deck behind the mast somewhere. That setup would have made it impossible for us to launch the raft. Easy accessible in the raft easy enough for one person to slide it in the water.
The second big thing we learned is that we take a maximum of one item each into the raft. We stocked up EPIRB, handheld Vhf, backpack and other useful stuff in the cockpit but the only thing we got with us in the stress and somewhat narrowed vision we had at the time was a bag with passport and credit cards, not because it was the most important item but because it was the first we grabbed. So, the conclusion is to have a pre-packed grab-bag on with everything in it. And the last big one is a real old one, but still stay away from dangerous coast. The EPIRB was one of the items left in the cockpit. We would never have sailed without one before. Next time we will have one in the grab-bag and one in the galley.
Thank you ACR!
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