Fujin is of course a sailish.com favorite, and several Northwest sailors are lucky enough to race on the high performance Paul Bieker catamaran. In the Caribbean, no less. So it was a little scary when the news came through that Fujin had capsized in the Caribbean 600, but fortunately the news came with the rather important detail that all were safe.
Brad Baker took the time to chat with me between flights on his way home this evening. It was pretty clear that while the capsize certainly caught everyone’s attention, the level of preparation and the skills of those onboard made the whole thing a lot less traumatic than it could have been.
At about 2200 local time Fujin was in a very competitive position, rounding Saba Island while avoiding a nearby reef. Baker was in the salon helping navigate – at ~20 knots there’s not a lot of room for error. It was puffy and shifty, and when a big puff of about 35 knots hit, combined with a big lift, Fujin flipped, and quickly. Dumping the main in such a situation is of course the primary way to depower, but it happened so quickly, Brad said, “I’m not even sure we could have dumped the main fast enough.”
While all the details are not clear, Baker remembers thinking “Ah, crap, we’re going to tip over. My thought wasn’t about survival at that point. My thought wasn’t about survival, it was we weren’t going to finish the race.” Brad and Mike Leslie and owner Greg Slyngstad migrated to the back of the boat where Fritz Lanzinger was already atop of the overturned boat and was able to help the others up. Personal EPIRBs were activated and rescuers came quickly. One of the keys was that Mike Leslie had the composure to flip the outside lights breaker before leaving the cabin. That extra light helped the situation enormously.
A fishing boat came out, got the crew onboard and towed the overturned boat to Saba. All of Fujin’s crew (Greg Slyngstad, Brad Baker, Peter F Johnston, Paul Bieker, Gina Borza, Fritz Lanzinger, Michael Leslie, Jonathan McKee) were rescued with no major injuries.
One key was clearly the preparation. They had a safety meeting before they left the dock so they knew what to do and where the safety gear was located. “I learned a lot – about myself – in those situations. I learned I don’t freak out. I learned it really is important to have the tools we need to get through an event like that.” It was the first time Baker and Jonathan McKee had been rescued before.
Has this experience soured Baker on catamarans? An emphatic no, although he points out that “the reality is the high performance ones can go past the point of no return and flip. The cruising catamarans are very hard to flip.” Now when Baker teaches the Safety at Sea Course, he’ll have quite a first person story to tell.
Baker and Bieker are confident that Fujin will fly again. I’m planning on talking to Paul Bieker as Fujin is righted and he can fully assess what needs to be done, plus any lessons learned.