by TREVOR SCHUBERT
"The plan was to sail across the Atlantic in a bathing suit with a Corona in hand," Ketchum resident and lifetime sailor Kevin Klinges said.
Instead, Klinges and two other sailors were forced to cling to their capsized catamaran, the Haley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, marooned roughly 200 miles northeast of Bermuda for 10 hours as 30-foot swells and winds as high as 58 knots battered their weatherworn bodies.
Klinges, 33, and fellow crewman Olof Templeman, 37, from the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, survived. Unfortunately, their captain, Steve Hobley, who was in his early 50s and from Devon, England, succumbed to hypothermia and exhaustion and died in the frigid waters.
As a kid growing up sailing on Chesapeake Bay, Klinges would often gaze out over the Atlantic.
"A cross-Atlantic sail has always been at the top of my list of things to do," he said via telephone from a Bermuda hospital bed Thursday morning.
For the past 13 years, Klinges has called the Wood River Valley home, but "every couple of years I get the itch and want to go sailing. I went online this winter and found about a million boats I could crew on."
Originally, the Haley was scheduled to sail from La Sable, France, via the Portuguese island Maderia and finally into port in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Off the coast of Maderia, "we received a satellite phone call that told us to sail the boat to Annapolis (Maryland) instead," Klinges said.
The original route would have kept the Haley and her crew along the 20th parallel, an oft-used southerly trek that steers vessels clear of the fabled Nor'easter storms (a term for large winter storms that form and propagate in the northeastern Atlantic).
"I was not happy with the change in plans," Klinges said. With a childhood's worth of East Coast winters under his belt, Klinges knows the danger a winter-born storm poses to boats in the North Atlantic.
Initially, reports of an impending storm raised little concern aboard the Haley.
"We were supposed to get hit with 30- to 40-knot winds for between six to 12 hours, which is not a big deal," Klinges said.
But the storm, which originated over Canada, came off the coast of Maine and collided with a low-pressure system that gained strength over the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. The storm's intensity grew exponentially, and by the time it reached the Haley, wind speeds were topping out at 58 knots.
"The squalls were bad. First they were 30 knots and then 45 and then we were seeing 50-knot winds," Klinges said. "For two days it never dropped below 30."
The duration of the storm provided time for the swells to go from disconnected pulses of energy to well-developed, evenly spaced walls of water.
"The waves were breaking out there," Klinges said. "It started out as wind-swept chop; it wasn't steep up the front or back. But soon they grew and began to break."
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, the ocean reared up and dropped what appeared to be the entire horizon on the stern of the Haley.
"I saw it coming. At first it was behind two other waves, off the quarter-stern on the starboard-side," Klinges said. "It was—no joke—easily 45 feet high and it dropped like a building on the back of the boat. We came within three to five degrees of capsizing right then."
After the rogue wave hit the Haley, the gravity of the situation began to weigh on its crew. At 5:20 p.m. EST, the ocean finally got the better of them.
"I was in my bunk, with all my gear on," Klinges said. "I just kind of knew that we were not going to make it past one or two hours of darkness."
That instinctive fear and subsequent preparation is most likely what saved Klinges' life. Shortly after hitting the water, Klinges and crew activated their EPRIB beacons, which use satellite technology to report the exact location of the downed vessel to the Coast Guard.
"An hour after we activated the beacon a little light on the EPRIB lit up, telling us that the Coast Guard had received our signal and were on their way," Klinges said. "That went a long way to ease my mind."
The fact it took another nine hours for the Coast Guard to pull the sailors out of the water speaks to the severity of the weather and the remote location of the wreck.
Prior to the boat capsizing, "the captain had been steering through the storm for three or four hours," Klinges said. "He went down below to take a rest and took off all his gear. Once we were in the water, the wind just took it out of him."
Coast Guard swimmer Michael Ackermann, the man who saved Klinges and Templeman, relayed his account of the event to The Royal Gazette newspaper in Bermuda.
"I asked them about the third man, and they confirmed he had succumbed to hypothermia and had become delirious. He had a life preservation device, but they said he undid it. In later stages of hypothermia you can start feeling really hot."
Klinges and Templeman tried to hold on to Captain Hobley. The unrelenting waves and wind finally ripped him from their grip and pulled him into the ocean. When the Coast Guard helicopter arrived, guardsmen saw that a man was missing.
Klinges recalled that "the helicopter headed down-wind to search (for Hobley), but after about a half-hour it returned." "The helicopter then hung about 300 yards off of us, you could tell they were trying to decide how to get us out. I worried they might not be able to get to us. I just tried to relax and hang onto the hull.
"I told myself, 'I am not going out like this,'" Klinges said. "I was just not willing to go anywhere."
After 10 hours in the liquid torrent, the rescue came suddenly.
"All I could see was water. My eyes were completely blood-shot from the salt and wind, and then all of a sudden a mask popped up right in front of me.
"I got to say, those Coast Guard guys are the baddest human beings around. They are awesome."
By the time Klinges was aboard the helicopter and in route for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Bermuda, he was suffering from severe hypothermia and exhaustion.
"I hadn't slept in close to 60 hours and hadn't had water in 15 or 16 hours," Klinges said.
Klinges remains in stable condition, and doctors continue to closely monitor his progress. Severe hypothermia coupled with dehydration can lead to renal, or kidney, failure, a life-threatening condition.
Upon his release from the hospital Klinges says he'll be headed back to Philadelphia to see his family. "I think my mom needs to see me for a while."
Despite the intense nature of his trial off the coast of Bermuda, Klinges said the ordeal did not turn him off to sailing or the ocean.
"When I get myself back together I am going to try and make it down to Saint Thomas for a while. I need to relax."
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