The Loss of Anna
On July 31 - August 1, 2010, Anna was lost in a sudden violent short-lived squall between Tonga and Niue, and
Glen and I were rescued 17 hours later by a freighter.
Glen McConchie, 46, Kiwi.
Kelly Wright, 58, Yank.
On Saturday, July 31, 2010, about 10 a.m. Tongan time, Glen and I escorted John, our fellow crewman who was
returning to the US, to a guestroom in Pangai on the island of Lifuka in the Ha'apai chain of islands in Tonga,
then returned to Anna and hauled the anchor and set sail for Niue, about 250 nm away to the ENE. The winds
were from the E and the SE so that we had to beat into them and tack a few times. The winds were steady,
ranging from about 12 to about 20 knots, and the skies were almost totally overcast, although there were
moments when the sun peeked through. The barometer also was quite consistent, hovering around 1000 mb.
The winds had been stronger, in the 20s, for several days prior and the seas were quite lumpy so that we put the
first reef in the main but used the full jib. We also deployed the lee daggerboard. These conditions prevailed for
over 24 hours.
The following day was Sunday Tongan time (the same as New Zealand time), but because we crossed the
International Date Line and our destination was Niue, we changed our ship's time (as displayed on our main ship’
s clock and all the navigation instruments) at noon to reflect Niue time, so that Sunday became Saturday, again
With a crew of two, even if off-watch one tends to remain in the pilothouse unless sleeping and be readily
available to assist, and such was the case that afternoon, as I had the noon to 1800 (6 p.m.) watch with Glen right
there at my side in the pilothouse. Sometime after noon we were on a starboard tack and were finally able to
achieve a good layline to Niue so that we no longer had to tack, and things seemed to be going our way. The
skies were still cloudy but some time after 1400 we noticed that a portion of the cloud cover to the East was
especially dark. I turned on the radar at the 12-nm range and it showed rain clouds almost all around with rain
clouds to our NE, E, SE, and NW, but the radar displayed no apparent difference or special intensity in the dark
cloud. Nevertheless we were somewhat wary of the dark cloud and paid extra attention to our monitoring of the
weather. The barometer had dropped only from 1000 mb to 998 mb over the preceding few hours, which was no
cause for alarm, and I hoped that the dark cloud held intense rain that would wash the boat and knock down the
seas so that we could shake out the reef in the main and speed up.
Suddenly just after 1500, while observing the anemometer (wind speed and direction indicator), which was
displaying apparent and not true wind since we were beating, I noticed that the wind was backing to the South so
that rather than beating into the wind, suddenly we were on a beam reach. I began turning Anna via the autopilot
so that we would remain head up. Then the wind speed jumped from 18 knots to 25, then to 30, then to 35 in the
blink of an eye, and both Glen and I yelled "let's reef" and we bounded out into the cockpit. When I saw the
anemometer in the cockpit a couple of seconds later, the wind speed showed 45 knots, so I moved to the
autopilot and again tried to head the boat up into the wind, while Glen tried to reef the jib. The wind was
ferocious, however, and Glen could not control the jib outhaul line so that it started flapping wildly. I was afraid we
would rip the sail (which I did last year because of my own operator error) and so shouted at him, "What are you
doing?", then reached over and closed the jammer cleat that prevented more line from getting loose. Realizing
finally that the wind was overpowering us to a perilous extent, I moved towards the mainsheet to release it, but in
a flash we were up in the air, flying a hull as if we were on a Hobie Cat, and I lost my balance and started tumbling
to port. We hung at that position -- roughly 45 deg. -- for a second then over we went. I used the S word. Loudly.
I estimate that the entire sequence from the veering of the wind until capsize took no more than two minutes,
perhaps much less. (It is difficult to reconstruct the timing of the capsize.)
Later Glen said that the highest wind speed he thinks he saw (he is not entirely certain) on the anemometer was
62 knots, and that was some moments before we were blown over so the top wind speed was no doubt much
I found myself submerged in the sea underneath Anna somewhere. I had fallen from what started out as the lee
side of the boat but which, when inverted, became the windward side. I remember struggling, seeing various
things swirling around me -- blue, white, dark, metal -- and I hoped I would not get entangled and swam
underwater to get out from underneath the boat as best I could. I surfaced on the windward side with some relief
and swam to the stern of the boat, thinking to myself that this could be my last day and I had better do everything
correctly to avoid that possibility. I also remember telling myself that I should have released the mainsheet and
other should-ofs which might have avoided the capsize in the first place, but also I thought to myself that I must
not get separated from the boat if I were to be rescued. I quickly climbed aboard Anna's inverted wingdeck that
bridges the two hulls. In my memory the sun was shining and there was no wind, the seas calm, but that must be
erroneous and perhaps it was just a sense of relative relief due to avoiding both drowning and being swept away.
My first concern was Glen. I was standing or kneeling on the inverted wingdeck and looked around for him but
could not see him and worried that he could not hold his breath that long. I moved over to a hull and started
pounding on it, yelling "Glen! Glen!" Momentarily I heard an answering series of knocks, and I felt mega-relieved
and a surge of confidence swept over me. In each hull of Anna there is an emergency escape hatch, which is
basically a window under the steps that lead from the pilothouse down into the hulls. Soon Glen's shiny head
appeared in the emergency escape hatch of the starboard hull, now to port, and we gave each other the thumbs
up sign. Although he could not hear me, I somehow made it clear that he needed to activate the EPIRB
(Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) to notify authorities of our emergency, and he nodded assent and
disappeared from view. Later he came back and tried to break open the hatch with a hammer and then a fire
extinguisher, but was unsuccessful. (I may have the timing wrong: it could be that he tried to break the hatch first
before moving off to activate the EPIRB.)
Whereas I had fallen out of the cockpit when Anna capsized, Glen had remained in it, probably holding on to
railings around the binnacle. He found himself in an air pocket and simply turned around and with some effort
and patience fighting the surging waves, was able to time opening the door just right and re-enter the pilothouse
where there also was a pocket of air, although it was quickly diminishing.
Ultimately I saw that it was unlikely that I would get back inside Anna without having to swim underwater and to
enter via an open door or hatch or port. I did not want to do that, so I looked around and tried to determine how
best to shelter myself. I remember it being bright and sunny and quite comfortable, but again I doubt my
memory. Soon I came to realize that there was another venue for my survival besides trying to remain on the
inverted deck or getting inside one of the hulls, and that was our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) dinghy that was
floating right there at the stern of Anna. I suppose it was there when I first climbed on but I do not remember it as
I was focused on locating Glen, but when I finally noticed it I immediately recognized the dinghy as my salvation.
We had parked the dinghy on our aft deck, as was our normal practice, during the passage from Tonga and it
was still attached to the dinghy davits. Evidently on capsize she popped up and self-righted for when I first saw
her she was floating right side up.
I moved to the dinghy and got in her and began securing her with additional lines to Anna, which I knew would not
sink. Ultimately I tied four extra lines from the dinghy to Anna around a stern rail, the rudder, and the saildrive,
and then tied a line around my waist and secured it to the dinghy to prevent me from being swept away. Seas
washed over me, filling the dinghy, and for a time I stayed busy bailing but soon determined that bailing out the
dinghy was a useless waste of my energy, that water came in much faster than I could keep it out, and that the
dinghy, being an inflatable, had enough positive buoyancy to stay afloat even if full of water. Luckily we had
anticipated that the dinghy might someday be swept away if the propeller broke or its outboard failed to start, so
we had loaded some emergency supplies in her small anchor locker, and I now had them to rely on. In the
anchor locker I found, besides the dinghy anchor and about 50 feet of anchor line, a floppy hat to keep the sun
off, some tools for working on the outboard, a liter of water, a knife, and -- most importantly -- a handheld VHF
radio. Except for the floppy hat I left everything in the locker and shut it tightly for I was concerned that the waves
that were battering me would wash something away. I intended to preserve everything as long as possible
because I had no idea how many days we would await rescue.
When the dinghy was sitting on our aft deck we had also stored several items in her, like a fish net, a plastic
container full of salted-down cut-bait for fishing, a bucket with a sturdy line, other spare lines, and the awning we
used on the aft deck. It was that awning that prevented me from perhaps suffering hypothermia that night, as all I
had on was a pair of shorts and undies underneath, and waves were constantly washing over me, chilling me in
the strong breezes that relentlessly buffeted me.
For several hours I was not sure that Glen had successfully turned on the EPIRB and regretted us not practicing
it. Finally, though, darkness fell and I could see the flashing strobe light of the EPRIB through one of the escape
hatches, and felt relieved to know that someone somewhere had been alerted that we were in a emergency.
Riding in the dinghy was very uncomfortable. I compare it to being in a thousand fender benders, because the
dinghy was ceaselessly slamming into one of Anna’s hulls and bouncing on top of the wingdeck, then would float
free only to fetch up with a violent jerk on one of the lines, throwing me around so that I crashed into the dinghy’s
contents and seat and scraped up against the dinghy’s valves. Moreover, waves were constantly washing over
me, ripping the awning out off my hand while I used the other hand to hold on. I counted for awhile and the most I
was getting at one stage was about 12 seconds of peace before the next shock. The shocks were so violent that
the 15-hp Yamaha outboard broke off its swivel and fell into the depths of the ocean, no doubt due to metal
fatigue. It was absolutely the most miserable time I have ever spent, and if I had been forced to suffer another
day of that I don't know if I would have been strong enough to take it. I intended to try something different when
dawn came, although I did not know exactly what. I tried every position imaginable and ultimately discovered that
sitting on top of the anchor locker and hunkering down with the awning draped over me was the best position
since it allowed me to sit as high as possible in the foot or so of water that sloshed around inside the dinghy. I
was still stiff and bruised several weeks after.
Glen did not have it much easier inside. Fumes from the starting batteries wafted through the hulls where air
resided, and Anna was getting knocked around herself a great deal and there was broken glass and dangerous
items like our galley cutlery floating and washing about. Glen suffered the worst wound, a nasty gash right on top
of his bald head. And while at night I had some light from the moon and stars and could see everything quite
clearly, Glen was in total darkness except for the EPIRB's strobe every three seconds.
Anna has a survival pod in each bow that stayed dry, and it was in one of those that Glen spent most of the time.
He too was planning for the next and subsequent days. Although the pilothouse was filled with water, Glen
ventured from hull to hull through the pilothouse during daylight, tying a line between the hulls so he would have
something he could pull on. The boat being upside down was disorienting to him, he said, and it took him several
attempts before it became clear to him that what had been starboard was now port, and vice versa, and to locate
the EPIRB so he could flip the switch and activate it.
I am sure had we not been rescued in such a timely fashion Glen and I would have improved our living conditions
on subsequent days for we had ample food and water in the hulls. We likely could have survived for several
weeks or more.
At midnight -- about nine hours after the capsize -- I heard an engine. I opened the awning I had wrapped around
me and looked around and saw strange lights in the air just a few hundred feet high moving away from us. I
hurried to open the dinghy's anchor locker and fetch the VHF, and I turned it on and start jabbering to the aircraft
crew that they were to the North of us, that they had missed us, and please come back. "Anna, this is Kiwi
Rescue Aircraft 4, and do not worry, because we have an excellent fix on your position and know exactly where
you are." I realized we were saved then, but felt no great sense of relief.
It was an Orion fixed-wing aircraft, not the helicopter which I had been expecting, and I was a little let down
because I knew that this aircraft was not capable of performing a rescue itself but could only locate us and direct
other craft to our location, so that actual rescue was some time off yet. Sure enough, on asking about rescue I
was informed that a freighter had been diverted and would arrive the next morning.
The aircraft came by every hour thereafter and checked on us, and I talked to them via the handheld radio.
Occasionally they set off green flares which they had told me earlier was a sign they wanted to talk, but they
could have saved the flares because I was eager to talk and called them as soon as they appeared on the scene.
The night passed incredibly quickly, I suppose because it was such an active time with constant recovery from
waves and jolts and because once I knew I was going to be rescued I was no longer worried about it. I used deep
breathing I learned in yoga to fool myself into feeling warm, telling myself that the deep breath was going from my
lungs to my midriff and hips and that the breath was bringing warm air to those parts of my body. For a couple of
hours before dawn the seas relented, and whether it was a dream or hallucination, for a moment I thought I was
sitting in a dry dinghy with boxes of dark chocolate lined up symmetrically on either side of me. I never once took
a sip of the liter of potable water that I had in the dinghy, preferring to save it in the event our rescue was
prolonged, but early I did nibble on some of the cut-bait to test whether or not it made me sick, but it was so salty I
spit it out and determined to worry about food later.
Dawn came, the seas started building again and knocking me around, and the Kiwi Rescue Aircraft appeared,
this time with a different crew whose English was much more difficult for me to understand. I was told that Glen
would have to make it out of the hull on his own, and that he and I would have to swim to the freighter where the
crew would be waiting with lines and lifebuoys. I had not been in visual contact with Glen yet that morning so I
had to leave the dinghy and make my way to the emergency escape hatch where I had last seen him. I was still
tied to the dinghy so I knew that I would be alright, but the waves knocked me down and swept me away and I
instinctively grabbed onto a steering cable with one hand in a vain attempt to stay near the hatch. I had the
grapnel anchor in my other hand and beat like hell on the escape hatch for a few seconds, then would be swept
away and grab a cable and water would wash over me, then I would make my way back and hammer away only to
be swept away again when I would grab hold of the stainless steel cable that bit into my hands and the force of
the waves would push me underwater and twist me around so that holding on the cable proved impossible. I
thought I might drown at one point so I made my way back to the dinghy to recover and wait, hoping that Glen had
heard my occasional hammering. Because he did not appear, I resolved to try again, only this time not hold the
steering cables, but just beat on the hatch as I was passing by, not fighting the waves but riding with them and do
the best I could. I did that for a few minutes and soon Glen reappeared and I quickly returned to the dinghy and
from there, in a very demonstrative sign language, communicated to him that in twenty minutes the freighter
would be in position and that he -- Glen -- would have to get out the hull on his own.
I waited patiently wondering just how Glen would evacuate the boat and begin to worry when I did not see him
after several minutes. But Glen was just taking his time, trying to assure that he would not be entangled in any of
the rigging washing around under and along the side of Anna. His best means of escape was to use a deck
hatch, but the deck hatches were no longer on top of the hull but instead on the bottom, in the water. Rather
than spoil the dry conditions of his survival pod in the bow, he decided to open the deck hatch in the head
(bathroom) just aft of it. Glen wisely tied a line to an empty plastic jerry can and pushed that out first so he would
have something to grab if necessary to prevent him from being swept away. Suddenly I saw the jerry can pop up
and I started calling his name and soon he appeared with a mask and snorkel and his dive knife strapped to his
leg, ready to cut through any entangling lines. He made his way to the stern of the boat, I still in the dinghy tied to
one hull, he holding onto the other hull, and soon he was able to climb onto the hull and hold on to the upside-
down rudder. We chatted a bit.
The freighter was moving close so that we were drifting down on them and the crew was shouting at us and
showing us the lines and buoys and the net and ladder we ultimately would have to climb. When the freighter was
a hundred feet or so away, I untied the line around my waist that held me to the dinghy, stood up and told Glen,
"here I go, good buddy", and dove into the sea and began swimming. As I approached a crewman tossed me a
line, then another dropped me a life buoy, and they started dragging me aft towards the net and ladder that was
set up near the superstructure in the rear quarter of the ship. On reaching it I had to wait until a wave picked me
up and set me high enough to get a foot on the ladder, then climbed aboard, maybe 15-20 feet, with some
difficulty where a crewman wrapped a blanket around me and another held on to me in case I would collapse.
Glen stayed on Anna longer than I and was nearly smashed between the freighter and Anna, and pulled a leg up
just in time to suffer only a small cut, but no broken bones. Glen waited for a wave that swept him up and
clambered aboard the freighter just behind me. Whereas I shook the hands of the crew, Glen embraced them in
a spasm of joy and relief.
I was rescued with only the shorts and underwear I had on. Glen came aboard with shorts and undies, but also
the scuba knife strapped on his leg and, at the last minute, he picked up the floppy hat I had been wearing and
had tossed into the sea just before I dove into the water, and which had drifted right up to the ladder.
The crew filmed the rescue and Glen has uploaded it to YouTube. See “Capsized Atlantic 57”.
The ten-person crew on the freighter, Forum Pacific, was comprised of a Fijian master, Tongan 1st mate, Fijian
2nd mate, Fijian boatswain, and the rest were from Sri Lanka. They were not only competent in rescuing us but
wonderful people, too. They gave us clothes, tended to our wounds, fed us well, staged a kava drinking party for
us, and were at our beck and call as if we were on a cruise ship. The 2nd mate, a youngish fellow, even gave us
$560 out of his own pocket and said we did not have to repay him!
The Forum Pacific is 87 meters long, displaces about 30,000 tons, and runs a circuit from Auckland to Tonga to
Niue to the Cook Islands then back to Auckland, largely delivering aviation fuel in large canisters, vehicles and
containers. Lucky for us they were in route between Tonga and Niue at the time of our capsize and did not have
to divert far out of the way to rescue us. There was some delay, though, and the people of Niue were eagerly
awaiting the ship when she arrived, especially because there was a toilet paper shortage on the island.
The Forum Pacific previously sailed in the Indian Ocean and was captured by Somali pirates and the crew held
for ransom for six months. Only one of the present crew, the Sri Lankan electrician, had been held hostage. He
said, except for the initial attack with RPGs, the Somalis were nice. The ransom paid he said was $1.8 million.
On arrival at Niue the New Zealand High Commission took over and began processing Glen and contacted the US
Embassy to start getting me a replacement passport. I emailed my insurance agency and arranged for a wire
transfer of funds. We were sort of local celebrities and had to repeat this story umpteen times to all the yachties.
Niue has only one flight per week, and it is to and from Auckland, and we were able to get tickets and returned to
NZ after about five days. Glen flew on to Christchurch on the South Island to visit family while I was busy in
Auckland with the US Consulate General, insurance, and a potential salvagor, who coincidentally owns the Forum
I failed to understand what was happening when the squall hit us. I thought it was just a moderately hard wind of
about 40 knots and did not even conceive of the danger of capsize. Only when I saw that Glen could not handle
the control line for the jib did the severity of the conditions we faced dawn on me and I moved to release the
mainsheet, alas, too late.
I underestimated the danger of capsize and had never prepared for it. I thought we might be holed by a container
or other object in the sea, or perhaps by collision with another vessel, but never seriously thought that capsize
was a threat. I should have at least considered the possibility of a violent squall and worked out defensive
procedures and practiced them, rather than be forced to think it all out at the moment of impact. I was too slow to
react as a result. Had I practiced encountering a squall perhaps I would have reacted more quickly and been
able to save Anna.
I feel a fool as a result. Even our EPIRB was bought without serious consideration of capsize: ours was a
manually activated model rather than a water-activated one because I thought our only real threat was being
holed, which would afford us ample time to set off the EPIRB manually, and I did not consider the possibility of
capsize, which would make reaching the EPIRB and activating it difficult.
I was in a bad squall years ago, in the late 1990s, on a keelboat on a sail training trip from Bermuda to Norfolk,
VA, and it is was in the afternoon and we could clearly see it coming, a dark, ominous cloud, and our skipper
wisely ordered us to drop all sail and head into it using our motor. I recall a top wind speed of over 60 knots.
Although the squall that hit Anna did not present itself as clearly as the Bermudan one, if I would have followed
that skipper’s example, I would still be sailing in the Pacific. I am going to feel bad about this the rest of my life.
Losing Anna and all our belongings is like having your home burn down with everything inside. It is kind of
sickening, and to realize with hindsight that I might well have prevented it by earlier recognition of what was
happening and reacting according to a well-known script makes it doubly so.
Glen and I were unlucky that such an intense wind hit us, but on the other hand were very fortunate that things
fell into place for a quick rescue. Having the EPIRB that sent out our GPS position was key to that, as was the
competency of New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Committee which sent an aircraft to find us 1400 nm away!
Lucky were we, too, that M/V [motor vessel] Forum Pacific was nearby and that she had a competent crew. We
were also lucky we had not secured the dinghy to the aft deck as we sometimes do for a long passage, but had
instead just set her down on her chocks which allowed her to float out and provide me with shelter. And I was
lucky that we had stored the awning in her which provided some cover from the waves and prevented
The EPIRB incidentally continued to transmit for four days. Anna moved at a leisurely half knot to the NW for
about two weeks until she hit a reef in Tonga which ripped her up terribly. Although there were some items
salvaged from her by various people, she was a total loss.
During the entire 17 hours I never thought I was going to die. As soon as I hit the water after the capsize I
obviously realized that my chances for an early departure were suddenly greatly increased and that I must focus
on surviving, but I never for a second felt the fear of death. Some of that comes from many disaster experiences
(set out below), and the knowledge that catamarans do not sink and the certainty that, with the EPIRB, we would
be rescued. A couple of days after rescue, though, about four in the morning as I lay in bed in Niue, I thought
how damn close Glen and I had come, and chills swept over me. It would have been nice to have had a female to
hug me, to snuggle in bed with, to mother me a bit. I almost went to a bordello in NZ (where they are legal) just to
find human touch, but purchased affection I have never found satisfying.
People in NZ told us that Anna is the largest cruising (that is, non-racing, non-day-charter) catamaran ever to
I have now had the following emergency experiences at sea:
- Was on a catamaran that sunk to deck level due to a maintenance oversight in False Bay, South Africa,
2001, and was rescued by the SA Navy.
- Was on a catamaran (the same as above) that was breaking up and the hulls separating from the
bridgedeck, on a voyage planned to be from South Africa to Portugal, about 2007, and we barely made it
into port in Namibia.
- Was alone on a motorcat in Labrador that lost both engines and was floating among icebergs and was
rescued by local fishermen.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) that lost both headstays.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) that ripped its jib.
- Was knocked overboard in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, by the boom of a keelboat in an accidental jibe.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) that had a trampoline track torn away.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) that had three stanchions knocked over when deploying a sea anchor.
- Was on a catamaran (my previous sailboat, Green-on-Blue) that lost its hydraulic steering and forced us to
use emergency steering for 12 hours until we reached an anchorage.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) that lost its cable steering.
- Was on a catamaran (Anna) on which a radial drive (quadrant) came loose from the rudder post.
- And now, was on the largest known cruising catamaran (Anna) to capsize, saved by NZ rescue aircraft and
a passing freighter.
I don't blame anyone who is reluctant to go sailing with me. I certainly don’t have an enviable safety record.
Finally, I often tend to be cynical and fear that people are getting worse, more violent and criminal and selfish, but
this experience has given me new faith in my fellow human being. We found everyone quite empathetic and
I appreciate all your good wishes very much.
POSTSCRIPT (November 2010)
It has been over 90 days now since the capsize, and I must admit that it took me some time to get over the
accident, to sleep a whole night through without waking and fretting over the loss of Anna, and re-living the
events. But now I am totally back to normal and have no lingering effects. One of the most important reasons I
have come right is that concern about the financial loss involved with Anna's capsize has been resolved with the
receipt of the full insurance proceeds.
I never thought I was so money-oriented, but the relief I gained with receipt of the insurance proceeds was
palpable, and I think that very night my sleep returned to normal.
I could have never sold Anna for as much as I received from the insurance company. I had to pay a couple
thousand dollars for the insurance company's surveyor last year in NZ to come up with the coverage amount, and
I grumbled at the time at the cost, and of course I grumbled at the amount of the premium, too, but those two
payments have to have been the best investments I have ever made.
In October I went to Australia for a couple of weeks to look for a new boat, but on viewing the first one, I realized I
had no enthusiasm to buy another boat and outfit it, so I spent the time traveling to Adelaide and South Australia
and enjoying myself instead. I have no plans to buy another boat at present. I still own the motoryacht Anna, and
may well want to do some exploring in it, and otherwise I have a very good friend, Jan Cluistra, who delivers boats
from South Africa to the Caribbean and Florida and I can join him as crew when passagemaking again appears
attractive (it doesn't at the moment).
I am content to build a new life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, doing volunteer work, working out, and learning
foreign languages. If anyone is coming this way, don't hesitate to contact me and I'll show you around and host
you to a meal and maybe more.