"Falling overboard at night in the North Pacific is pretty much a death sentence." Read this harrowing account by the staff of Mustang Survival.
Early in the morning of June 14th, 2022, Theresa Riedl emerged on deck of the Shadow II for her watch. The carbon fibre racing boat was due to complete its journey from Vancouver, BC, to San Francisco, CA, in the next 24 hours. Riedl had been warned the weather would get a little “spicy”—but she had no idea what she was in for.
Only a few days prior, at 4 a.m. on June 11th, Riedl watched the sun rise over the Southern Gulf Islands after departing Vancouver. “It was beautiful and calm,” she wrote, “and turned the whole sky pink.”
Riedl had decided to leave her marketing desk at Mustang Survival to join seven others on board a racing boat with little creature comforts—including a toilet with no doors.
The crew’s mission was to transport the Shadow II to San Fran for the Pacific Cup. Sailing the beautiful yet wild North Pacific Ocean, they were in for a five-day adventure—including a rough final 24 hours at sea.
Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on June 12th, Captain Joel Ross mused, “It is always interesting at sea… so far, everything is lining up as planned.”
Offshore sailing offers a unique blend of prepared monotony with moments of awe. Hunter Lowden, product manager at Mustang Survival, noted on June 13th: “Progress has been relatively steady, but we’re looking to slow down to hit a move favorable weather window when approaching San Francisco. We will continue to work with the weather data and routing software to refine our heading as we get closer. On a more interesting note, last night, Theresa, Julia and I saw porpoises while on watch. They swam and jumped beside our boat as they were lit up by the bioluminescent plankton. We had to briefly check our sanity that we had all seen the same thing.”
All too soon, everything changed. Riedl documented the crew’s arduous final day in chilling detail:
What a crazy 24 hours it has been. Yesterday, I came on deck for my 8 a.m. watch and noticed the wind had picked up significantly and the waves had gotten substantially larger.
The wind continued to build throughout the day to 30-35 knots, and the waves kept on getting larger until they looked like mountains of ocean behind the boat. Every wave picked us up higher. The way down was like riding a black diamond ski run on the ocean.
As conditions became more serious, so did we. Hunter and Joel spent a good amount of time down at the navigational table trying to plot the best and safest way to make landfall during the intense weather.
As dusk approached, the winds and waves didn’t let down. I went back on deck for my evening/night shift at 8 p.m. geared up in my EP jacket, Meris bibs and EP PFD with a tether and personal AIS beacon inside (which is used to locate us in case we go overboard). The tether and harness connected to our PFD is used to clip ourselves to the boat in rough conditions and always at night. I made sure to clip in right away as I stepped on deck for this evening shift. The boat was healed over hard (at a steep angle), and each wave pushed us around. Falling overboard at night in the North Pacific is pretty much a death sentence.
That night watch felt very long. The waves were crumbling over us, pounding onto us with every crash. It was an icy cold Pacific shower over and over. I was particularly grateful for my Mustang Survival gear that night.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit scared. These were the roughest conditions I had ever sailed in. The most terrifying moments were the two knockdown/broaches that happened when I was on deck. The bow of the boat had gone into the wave while surfing down. The boat became overpowered and was caught on its side with the end of the boom touching the water. The first time it happened I was flung down the deck, the second time I was more ready and held onto the lifelines.
At around 1 a.m., we finally arrived at our point of refuge in a bay 25nm north of San Francisco that Hunter plotted us to. Here, we were able to finally take down the main sail which had one batten that had pulled out of the mast track, and which prevented us from reefing in the gnarly wind. We were all exhausted, wet and cold, but we were relieved. I crawled into my bunk for a few hours of sleep. To my surprise, my bunk was wet from all the water that crashed onto the deck and seeped through the boat that night, but I slept anyway.
As dawn rose, I came back onto deck. It looked like a different world. It was the calm after the storm, and it was so very beautiful. Cranes and seagulls were flying overhead, the golden hills of California were glowing in the morning sun, the sea lions were tanning on the buoys. The world was calm once again. I sipped my morning coffee and admired the sheer beauty around me.
An hour or two later, we sailed around a peninsula and then suddenly there it was in all its glory… the Golden Gate bridge. We had made it!
It has been a big goal of mine to sail below the iconic Golden Gate bridge coming from somewhere afar. It felt even more rewarding after what we had just been through. A huge challenge at sea that required everyone to work as a team and push past their comfort zone. As I reflect on this journey, I can’t help but feel grateful.
Our motto at Mustang Survival is livebeyondland. Most of us here don’t just sit at our desks and do our day job. We are all passionate about getting on the water and we strive to make the best products for those who also share that same passion to #livebeyondland. We also get out there and test the gear ourselves. . . sometimes hundreds of miles offshore in 30 knot winds.
We have been building inspired technical solutions for water rescue professionals, military elites, and commercial/industrial mariners for over 50 years. These serious marine users demand serious marine products. At the Mustang Waterlife Studio, we continually obsess on 3 pillars to protect and enrich the lives of our users; Float, Dry, and Enhance.