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Annapolis to Newport Race - Abrupt stop for Donnybrook

by Talbot Wilson on 6 Jun 2011
James Muldoon’s 73 foot Donnybrook at the start of the Newport Bermuda Race 2010. Talbot Wilson ©
Our Annapolis to Newport Race on James Muldoon's Donnybrook started Friday afternoon and ended abruptly early Saturday morning when the keel of the big black boat met the rocks of the south jetty of the Chesapeake Bay tunnel near Norfolk, Virginia.

We were reaching up toward the channel at 6:45AM and bore off to cross over the tunnel. With all hands on deck, getting ready to launch a spinnaker for the next leg of our course around the 'middle ground.' The chart indicated 18 feet of water on the line we took, but the 12 foot deep keel proved the chart wrong.

We were doing 12-14kts when Donnybrook hit a solid wall of rock and the 73 foot 30 ton racer stopped in an instant. She spun to the right and bounced along in a jarring series of lesser hits. The crew were scattered in the cockpit and deck like fallen pins in the ally. Three of our mates were taken to the hospital as soon as the Coast Guard could get out to help us. One will have have surgery on a compound fracture of his forearm, the other two were treated and released.

I was trimming the mainsail, sitting on the deck in the cockpit and was thrown down on my right side. On the morning after 'Donnybrook on the Rocks' I've got a hangover-headache from the bump on my head and a pretty sore right shoulder.

Owner Jim Muldoon was driving. He practically went through the port side steering wheel. He caught the wheel on his throat. Captain of the Black Watch, Peter Manickas, was bruised after hitting the other wheel, bending some spokes and braking the weld at the hub. Will Keyworth, the Green Watch Captain, flew forward from mid-cockpit and hit his nose on the bulkhead above the starboard instrument displays. He looked like Rocky after the fifth round. All hands on deck were down and surely all eighteen of us have some pain somewhere today.

Abby Sayer was below fixing breakfast sandwiches. She hit the counter by the sink. Her glasses and the sandwich she was making wound up in a forward berth. She narrowly missed being bashed by the companionway steps which flew across the cabin after being driven off the bulkhead by the weight of three life rafts stacked behind them.

After the initial shock, the crew rallied and hauled down the jib. I trimmed the main all the way in to drive the boat back up into the wind to try to head back on a close reciprocal course. We checked for lines overboard and Peter started the engine, put it in gear. Mr. Muldoon drove back out, bouncing Donnybrook painfully through the rocks as the crew got the mainsail down to take pressure off the damaged keel and furled on the boom.

Crew who weren't hurt helped others who were, some crew checked for leaks at the keel bilge, others hauled the life rafts, ditch bags and medical supplies into the cockpit. Luckily, we were not taking on any water, but unluckily there were at least seven cracks around the keel bolts and their backing plate and at least one cracked stringer crossing over the front third of the keel. The boat's emergency plan, which we had discussed in our crew meeting before the race started, was put into action and worked smoothly.

Navigator Kurt Lowman called the US Coast Guard who responded promptly in their 45 footer from Little Creek. They offloaded our three injured and left us with two of their crew and a pump for 'just in case' as we motored to the Little Creek Marina which was now saving the t-dock space for us.

We were greeted at the marina by the Virginia Marine Police and were now the focus of a state required marine accident investigation. With 18 crew, it was the largest investigation these officers had ever dealt with. They had to interview each of us asking for a photo ID and written statement on the crash and asking questions like whether we were wearing a PFD, what type, where were we on the vessel and what we were doing, how much experience we had sailing on Donnybrook, if we had completed any boating and safety courses.

Donnybrook motored back to Baltimore later on Saturday and will be hauled there for inspection and repair. It will be interesting to see how high up on the keel the damage goes. That will tell us how high the rocks were and how wrong the 18 foot depth on the chart really was.
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