Sailing Dragonfly Fiji to California

Dragonfly Interior Layout

Dragonfly had been in Fiji for two years (2014-15) sailing doctors, nurses and dentists to the remote islands providing them with free health care as part of the Sea Mercy Organization. As a 65′ catamaran with 4 queen size berths, we had plenty of room to comfortably transport volunteers with their supplies. It was a rewarding and unique experience that we will treasure. However, it was time to return to the states where our family was.


Passage Preparation

Sailing Crew to HawaiiJacque.jpgAl flew to Fiji in March, 2016 and prepared Dragonfly for the trip. Jill was not able to participate in the trip but our nephew Emerson, who had been on board several times decided to make the trip as did our good friend Jacque who had sailed from Panama to Tahiti in early 2014. Carolyn and Stephan a couple from South Africa responded to our ad in Crew Finders. They didn’t have any sailing experience, but had plenty of ocean experience on large yacht and had been part of the Sea Rescue team in South Africa. Both were young, energetic and looking for the open water miles to qualify for a Master Seaman’s license.

It was a good crew. They all got along and were good company.

The route

They left April 1, 2016 from Fiji on their 6-8 week, 5500 mile trip to San Francisco. This was a delivery trip, not a cruising trip. They planned to make brief stops in American Samoa, Suwarrow, Kirabati and Hawaii.

April 20, they stopped  briefly in American Samoa, then an overnight in Suwarrow a beautiful atoll that they had all to themselves. On April 28th they left Kirabati for Hawaii, which looked like it would be a great sail with good conditions.


To tell or not to tell

Our story is more than just the one injustice of an indefensible claim denial. There is regular life that happens while this is going on. So we are going to include those aspects.

Juggling lifeThere were multiple reasons why Jill didn’t go on the trip and one that we didn’t expect. We had the following things going on:

  • a rental property that had a fire and needed to be rebuilt.
  • a long-term commercial property eviction which had to be handled in superior court, not small claims, involving lawyers.
  • committed to babysit the California kids while their parents went to Chile.
  • Jill’s failing 90-year-old mother didn’t like her to be far for very long.
  • Jill’s mother had also decided to disperse some of her assets to her kids. Since Jill was the one who had helped her with the investments, Jill was naturally the one to assist her thru this process.


The unexpected


So while Al was sailing, Jill was handling these things. We were pretty sure who got the better “job” at least until May 1. While Jill was in California, she noticed a lump in her breast and scheduled an appointment with the doctor when she returned from California.

April 28th Jill saw the doctor who was immediately concerned. She was actually more concerned about the other breast. Jill immediately went to see the PA of a breast surgeon. An ultrasound and mammogram were done and the results were not good news. Jill had suspicious areas in both breasts. The biopsies were scheduled for May 2, 2016.

shhh Don't TellJill had decided not to tell Al much about all the going’s on at home while he was sailing, unless things were final and/or good news. There was nothing he could do about them anyway. This certainly fell into that category. There was no reason to worry him when I didn’t know if there was something to worry about. He needed to stay focused on the trip.


The Dismasting of Dragonfly

This is a description of the dismasting incident by Al, the captain and owner of Dragonfly.


  • Date: May 1, 2016 (Fiji Time) Time: 3:35 am
  • Location: Approximately 400 miles south of Hawaii
  • Wind: 20-25 knots apparent AWA: 45
  • Seas: 8-10’
  • Visibility: Very good
  • Skies: Clear
  • Moon: Last Quarter (36%) rising at 1am
  • Heading/COG: 22 degrees
  • Speed: 7.8 to 8.3 knots
  • Crew on board: 5
  • Team on Watch: Emerson & Jacque. Emerson was on watch and Jacque was lying inside the salon.


The Dismasting Experience by Al

As I did throughout the trip I periodically got up to check with the crew and make sure everything was in order and to provide instructions regarding the heading, power and other relevant things. Emerson and Jacque were on their team watch. Jacque was inside and Emerson was sitting at the helm station in the chair that was tied to the aluminum rail to hold it in place.

I went below to my berth, in the forward starboard queen berth and was lay down. Within 5 minutes, I felt a violent hit as the boat was shoved to windward, like we had been slammed by a large wave forward on the port side. This seemed extremely odd since the prevailing wind and waves had been coming from the starboard side. It was an impact like I’d never felt before. Within seconds I heard a noise that obviously needed attention.

Cockpit After dismastingInitially I thought we had broken the main halyard because coming into the cockpit I could see the sail draped over the hard top on the port side and we’d seen when the halyard broke . Jacque was assisting Emerson, who dove to the floor of the helm station, out-of-the-way of the boom that had fallen onto the hardtop. The hardtop was broken, but not completely collapsed. Fortunately Emerson was OK.

I stepped onto the starboard cockpit platform to see that there was no mast. It took a fraction of a second for it to sink in, but it was real enough. I could see the mast on top of the salon with a portion of the mast was sticking up.

The Dismasting Experience by the Crew

Emerson had just gone to the helm to check the instruments and noticed the time of 3:35am. He went back to his seat and looked at the mast, which he could see because of the moon rising on the clear night. Emerson felt three significant waves increasing in intensity hit the boat. He saw the mast shift, sway and then start to fall and he dove to the floor. Emerson is 100% confident that the mast failed first below the boom and that there were no breaks in the mast above the boom before he dove out-of-the-way.

Jacque, the second person on watch, was inside the salon. She felt the first two waves and stood up and then was knocked back down onto the bench as the result of another wave. If the wave had come from starboard, she would have been knocked away from the bench not onto the bench.

Stephan and Caroline were in their cabin on the port side getting ready to come up on watch. They felt the hit of a strong wave shove the boat and then Emerson yell. Jacque remembers having to clean up the salon and galley where things had been tossed off the counters and opened cabinet doors as a result of the hit. This was a unique experience.

Evaluating the Situation

I needed to see what the situation was so started forward on the starboard side stepping over the starboard shrouds which were still intact lying across the salon top. Stephan followed behind me. As we started to cross in front of the windows I could see the head stay from the genoa with the sail attached lying across the trampoline and deck. The bow sprit was in the water with the gennaker furler still attached. The furled gennaker was lying across the front bow just behind the first stanchion.

As we got to the mast step, I could see that the mast step was still intact. The mast lying on the salon top was cracked on the port side just below the boom. It had kicked out the starboard side of the mast surround partially lifting the window. The broken portion of the mast was still attached and lying at a 30 degree angle to the rest of mast with a crack on the port side.

The second break was on the starboard side of the mast just above the lower spreader. It was at the point that was just beyond the port side of the boat and angled down into the water.

We moved to the side of the boat and could see a third break was just below the upper spreader and just above the water. The top 45- 50′ was now sticking in the port hull. The jagged edge digging away at the fiberglass with every sway of the boat.

Image of Mast on the salon top with three breaks.

It was obvious that we needed to let the rig go before a hole was dug in the side of the boat.

Cutting the Rig Loose.

We went to the cockpit and I crawled under the sail on the port side to check on things and saw that the port shrouds were intact as well. But the antenna wire was broken from the mast.

Stephan and I gathered the grinder and cutting wheel and started the process of letting it go. We cut the starboard shrouds first then the port shrouds. We then went forward and pounded the pin out of the genoa head stay with the five-pound hammer and it slid into the water.

The gennaker still had the sail furled on it, so we hacksawed through the sail then the aluminum tubing and it slid off into the water.

We then got two box knives started cutting lines. We started with the furling lines and sheets of the genoa and gennaker. The main was next. We cut the reefing lines and halyard forward that were taut at the organizer on the mast. Then went to the back were we cut the main sheet. The boom came off the hard top and everything was off.

We then had to pull the bow sprit up out of the water and secure it.

Take a breath and communicate.

We waited until light so we could make sure that nothing was fouled under the boat. We started the engines and started heading to our destination. The dismasting made us a power boat.

Once this was done, we strapped the antenna wire to the long-boat hook that we strapped to the aluminum dodger frame and was able to tune up and send an email to my wife Jill.I remember going back and look at our track on iNavX as it shows us merrily cruising along at 7.8 to 8.3 knots on a course of 22 deg and within 40 seconds be doing .75 knots on a course of 290 degs.



No Serious Safety Concern by the Knowledgeable

safety first.jpgSafety first so within a few hours of the dismasting, we were in contact with Jill on a regular basis via email. We use Sailmail via our Icom IC-718 radio and Pactor Dragon modem. The signal was very strong from the Hawaii station so our make-shift antenna worked pretty well. However, it wasn’t uncommon for it to take 30-45 minutes to connect and send/receive the emails. We had a Iridium Satellite phone, which was not reliable. It rarely connected and once it did, would drop within a few minutes, but could be used if necessary.


We attempted to use our the Icom radio to communicate with the Coast Guard or the 14300 Marine net but didn’t have any luck. We could hear them, but they couldn’t hear us, so our antenna wasn’t that effective.

No Mayday Needed

We were not in danger, we had a fiberglass composite boat which would not sink, plenty of food, a water maker, propulsion and communication. There was no reason to put out a mayday or set off the EPIRB, causing a ship to divert or use Coast Guard resources. The underwriter stated that I was cavalier when not to having done so, but if I had, they would have forced us to get off and scuttle Dragonfly, making it a total loss. That wasn’t necessary.

coast guard.jpegWe decided early on that we would contact the Coast Guard, when it made sense. We knew that once they were contacted, they would require a check-in every four hours. While this seems reasonable, it was burdensome when trying to monitor our single engine, fuel, course and get some rest.

Safety/Communication Plan

JLog Visual 2 - Dismasting - data-recalc-dims= May 3.png” width=”166″ height=”259″ />Log Visual 3 - May 4 - Honokohau Harbor.pngill & I had a communication plan, I would email her every morning and evening, She had her Iphone with her at all times, so if I contacted her prior to that, she was ready to respond. With every email, I would provide her our Lat/Long, course over ground, speed over ground and conditions. Jill put them into her navigation software and posted them on YoTreps, for others to see. Jill provided us with the weather forecast. It was understood that if she didn’t hear from us within 2 hours of when she expected to she would contact the Coast Guard immediately.  As it worked out, I contacted her more often than planned.

I asked Jill to contact the Coast Guard two days before arriving in Hawaii, just in case we had a problem toward the end. As expected they put us on a 4 hour communication schedule after spending 1-2 hours getting all the requisite information.  We truly appreciated having them there.  The additional work was just a necessary part of the experience and delayed until it was more easily managed.

Landing Plan

big island.jpgOur original destination was Hilo on the NE side of the island, but Jill was able to make arrangements for us to go to Honokahau Harbor on the SW side of the island. She also identified alternative places to anchor, and companies who could bring fuel to Dragonfly or provide a tow.

Once the dismasting was complete and all the mast and rigging were gone there was never a safety concern by any of the crew.


Logical Dismasting Depiction and Explained

Al discussed with the crew their individual dismasting experience and determined that:

  • They all felt a wave hit Dragonfly on the port side even though the wind was from starboard.
  • The disruption inside as a result of the hit was extraordinary in that things were thrown from cabinets, which doesn’t happen on Dragonfly.
  • Emerson, the watch person saw the mast break below the boom first.
  • Both Al and Stephan saw and described the mast broken in the same manner.


The only explanation of the breaks on the mast was a rogue wave hitting the boat on the opposing side of the boat. The resulting forces cause the mast initially to buckle under the boom.

Below are a visual depiction what happened based upon the witness descriptions, experience and engineering rules. This analysis has been reviewed by a mast builder, a rigger, a boat/mast designer and a NAMS surveyor and international marine investigator and they all concur. The dismasting was caused by a fortuitous rogue wave hitting Dragonfly on the opposing side to the wind.

Dragonfly dismasting components

Dragonfly Dismasting - Initial Hit by Wave

Dragonfly Dismasting - Mast buckles below boom

Dragonfly Dismasting - Lower tang releases

Dragonfly Dismasting - Mast begins to fall causes damage to surround

Dragonfly Dismasting - mast hits salon roof and water causing third break

Dragonfly Dismasting - what Al and Stephan saw


Indianapolis, May 2-5, 2016

pink-ribbon.pngMay 2 – Jill knew that she probably had breast cancer and her husband was motoring slowly toward Hawaii, with one engine. She also knew that they would attempt to put the propeller on, but there wasn’t anything she could do to help them.


Jill entered the hospital room for the biopsies and explained to the nurse the situation and requested that she keep her phone on. The nurses and doctor’s were very supportive, sympathetic and eager to hear the details.

It process didn’t take long and was fairly painless. Once done she hurried home to check the weather and prepare an update for Al. Still determined not to tell him.

May 4. Jill received the phone call from the PA, both sides were malignant. The initial findings were DCIS grade 1. The left side was invasive and right was papillary. A meeting was scheduled with Dr Giblin to discuss the details and plan. Jill’s sister, Sheri told her that she would be with her thru this, which was a very helpful thing since Sheri had an in-depth medical knowledge. I told her, that I needed her to figure out the questions to ask, because I needed to stay focused on Al & Dragonfly. She readily took the responsiblity.

May 5 – Jill & Sheri went for appointment with Dr Giblin. The doctor did an exam, ultrasound and discussed history. Jill’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and had a mastectomy. They went into a room with the doctor and Margie, the RN/navigator. They gave us a binder and Dr Giblin went on the explain the type of cancer I have and the plan. It was an excellent experience! She spent almost 2 hours with us in total explaining everything. Next steps were:

  • MRI
  • Mammoprint to determine the subtype of the biopsies. A – non aggressive not needing chemo and B – aggressive needing chemo
  • Genetic testing to see if I have any mutant genes
  • Appointment with Oncologist

Once all the testing was completed, the action plan would be clear.The next steps would have to wait.

broken wife.jpegFirst Jill was going to fly to Hawaii to greet Al and address anything they might need if she got there first. She was on the plane first thing the next morning knowing that she would have to tell Al that now both of his ladies were broken. But we knew both were tough.

Dfly Before & After.jpg


Submitting the Dismasting Claim

Blue Water Insurance - lousy customer serviceDragonfly arrived in Honokohau Harbor on Friday May 6, 2016. We called Blue Water Insurance to submit our dismasting claim on Monday morning. The response we received was curt, insensitive and un-informative. We were told that we would be hearing from a local agent and the conversation was ended.


Dock for Dragonfly

In the mean time we needed to find a place for Dragonfly to stay. The temporary dock space we were provided would last no more than 90 days.

Big Island HawaiiJill had called several marina’s prior to the 6th. All of them were less than enthusiastic about accommodating a vessel 65′ x 32′. We drove the entire circumference of Big island and had little or no luck finding a marina that could accommodate us.

We called individuals in the islands to see if they could provide assistance. One of which was John Koon. He told us that he could come from Oahu to Big Island to survey the boat and write a report that would support us. Because it was certain that the insurance company would try to “screw us”.

Lloyd’s agent first contact

Larry Montgomery, the Lloyd’s agent and local surveyor called us. He explained that he was assigned our dismasting claim and would come to the boat on May 19 to do a “field assessment“. He was very encouraging, stating that “You have paid your premium and the insurance companies expect to have some claims. Our objective is to make you whole again.” Based on that call we saw no reason to pay John Koon to come and do an independent survey. A decision which we regretted later.

Jill returned to Indianapolis on May 10 and the crew left soon after. Al stayed to address what he could. His priorities were the engine problems, water proofing and securing broken parts, and long-term dock space.