Tim Kent & Rick McKenna Rescued
Everest Horizontal Loses Keel Bulb

By Captain Thom Burns

After sailing around the world and all the major capes, Everest Horizontal lost its keel bulb one hundred and ten miles northwest of Bermuda. The yacht was on the return leg of the Bermuda 1 - 2 race between Newport, Rhode Island and Bermuda on Friday June 20th when disaster struck. Tim Kent and co-skipper, Rick McKenna, both of Elm Grove, Wisconsin were quickly faced with swimming to freedom from under the turtled yacht above them.

Here is the harrowing account of the capsize and rescue, written by Tim from aboard the rescue vessel, the cruise ship Nordic Empress enroute to New York.

“Shortly after reporting our position to the Bermuda 1-2 Race Committee last night and learning that we were just a few miles behind Tim Troy on Margaret Anna, Rick and I were psyched to have a great battle all the way back to Newport. But the battle turned out to be with the sea instead of our competitors.

“We were sailing at 12 to 13 knots in steadily building breeze under full main and solent (our working jib) when two sharp BANGS sounded from down below. We did not slow as if we had hit anything, but the boat began to round up and lay on her side. With the mast and sails in the water, I climbed around the stern of the boat to look at the keel to see what had happened. The sight that greeted me was chilling . . . the lead bulb had snapped off of the keel strut. Everest Horizontal, the wonderful boat that had carried me so safely around the world, was crippled beyond my ability to help her.

“I climbed back to the cabin, where Rick was unlashing the safety gear required by Around Alone. Thank goodness for their strict rules about pyrotechnics! I had just gotten the big waterproof box of flares and a headlamp and we were reaching for the EPIRB (emergency position beacon) when Everest began to roll over, which she did VERY quickly, trapping both of us under the boat. Rick was in the cabin and swam to the stern. I released my tether and followed him out. The best sight I have seen in many years was Rick bobbing in waves next to me! We each picked a rudder, climbed up on the upturned bottom of the boat and held on.

“And on the horizon was a brightly lit cruise ship! She was the Royal Caribbean ship Nordic Empress, under the command of Yngvar Knutsen. Captain Knutsen and his crew had no trouble locating us, as I lit up the sky over the next hour with ten of twelve parachute flares, guiding him to our position, which we also marked with the hand-held flares in our box. I was most fortunate to have taken the headlamp, as it made it possible for me to read the instructions on the various flares!

“Presently, the Nordic Empress arrived on site, lowered a lifeboat, and to the cheers of the passengers and a galaxy of flashbulbs, she made her way to our crippled race boat. The crew was wonderfully professional, coming alongside and tossing out a life-ring. I sent Rick first, wanting a few more moments with Everest before I was forced to abandon her. With my inflatable vest blown up, I then dove in for the lifering and was hauled aboard the lifeboat. I never saw Everest again.

“We arrived alongside and then the lifeboat was hauled back up to the 6th level, where we were issued blankets and taken directly to the infirmary. We were both thoroughly checked by the ship’s doctor and nursing staff, issued clothing, and were sent to individual rooms for hot showers. The staff and crew of the Nordic Empress have been wonderful to us. Captain Knutsen and his wife had us up to their cabin where Rick and I expressed our thanks for our rescue . . . and our lives.”

The torpedo shaped bulb, weighs 4,200 pounds according to Everest Horizontal designer, Jim Antrim of Antrim Associates Naval Architects in California. It is attached to the fin keel which is steel and weighs an additional 1,900 pounds. Without this counterweight, the boat did a 180 degree roll or went turtle in a couple of minutes. The keel was damaged a couple of legs back in the Around Alone Race when it hit a rock. Tim had the keel inspected and was satisfied that it was okay. This is eerily reminiscent of another midwesterner, Mike Plant, who a dozen years earlier lost his keel bulb and his life delivering his sixty foot solo racer to France for the start of the Vendee Globe around the world race.

Both Kent and McKenna swam from under the boat the long way from the cabin area back over the stern of the boat. Had they gone the shorter route to either side, they may have become entangled in the numerous lines controlling the rig and the sails. Even with a fair amount of good fortune, neither sailor managed to grab or activate the Emergency Position Indicator Beacon (EPIRB). The cruise ship would have never seen them without the box of flares and the overturned platform of Everest Horizontal from which to fire them.

Even though McKenna was exposed to relatively mild weather and somewhat bigger seas for only an hour and a half, he was already experiencing hypothermia. He was shaking badly as he was rescued in the eight foot waves and building winds. His body temperature dropped to near 92 degrees.

The Media Blitz

Even while the Everest Horizontal Shore Crew was rapidly working on the rescue mission of Everest, Tim Kent and Rick McKenna did a crazy media tour. Human interest seems to come with disaster or near disaster. Interviews were juggled with CBS, CNN and a host of regional outlets.

The Search For Everest Horizontal

Although the Race Committee and Tim Kent knew approximately where the yacht was when it capsized, no one knows exactly where it is now. “That’s the $300,000 question,” according to Kent. Fellow Around Alone Racer, Alain Paris, said the boat would be worth about $150,000 because the boat would be gutted and probably need a new rig after it is salvaged.

In any case both Kent’s extended family from Around Alone and his ex-wife, Cheri, began recovery organizing even before Tim and Rich were back ashore in New York.

Fellow Around Alone skipper, Bruce Schwab, whose Open 60 Ocean Planet is moored in Rhode Island, has joined the effort. “I have volunteered the use of Ocean Planet to assist. Although I have been home only briefly and many issues need urgent attention, I know that Tim would do the same for me if he had to. So I fly out tonight to arrive tomorrow morning at Ocean Planet which has been on a mooring provided by the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island.

“Tim Kent and I will set sail from Newport either tomorrow evening or early Wednesday to locate and stand by Everest Horizontal, while Brad van Liew and Alan Paris are getting a salvage boat and a diving team together. Locating the boat will be tricky, with Gulf Stream eddies swirling about, so we will be aided by shoreside routing support provided by Brad working with Commander’s Weather. It will take a few days to arrive at Everests’s last location and begin the search pattern.”

The question repeatedly posed to the shore crew is why not seek a volunteer plane in Bermuda to simply fly out and locate the boat? The problem is that there are no registered planes in Bermuda of the type appropriate for this mission. The planes in Bermuda are either commercial jets or privately owned jets of those vacationing there. The twin engine planes that come to mind are simply not there. A plane would have to come from elsewhere or happen to be a guest in Bermuda willing to step up and help. This has not yet happened.

Without a search plane, the offer from Ocean Planet to conduct an on-the-water search is a good if not perfect solution. Ocean Planet has good mechanicals for motoring the grid pattern that is necessary for a thorough search once on station.

It is the view of the Shore Crew that Everest Horizontal is well worth salvaging if done in a cost effective manner. EH is uninsured due to the inability to secure coverage for an offshore solo sailboat. Before the Around Alone and extensive search for coverage was made, there was no success on the insurance.

Aside from anything financial is the fact that Everest Horizontal has been Tim Kent’s home and his life for the past year. She is a family member and it is unbelievable to think that she is gone. Tim in an interview with Jon Belmont, “the boat has a soul and I must go find her.”

The total downside of the rescue attempt is that someone else could legitimately salvage the boat which is free for the taking on the high seas.
Let’s hope that the Everest Horizontal and Around Alone sailors find and salvage the boat.

Captain Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes.

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