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Long-Distance Cruising Couple have to abandon their yacht between Reunion and Madagascar

By SV Ironhorse — last modified Jan 25, 2016 02:19 PM
Wednesday 27 October, 2015: Alfred and Rosemarie of SV Ironhorse (a 25 year plus, gaff rig steel boat) had to abandon their yacht between Reunion and Madagascar beaten by multiple gear failure. The British couple were taken off their long-term home by a cargo ship bound for Singapore. They had been aboard circumnavigating for 23 years.

Published: 2016-01-14 00:00:00
Topics: Indian Ocean
Countries: Madagascar , Reunion Island , South Africa

We would like to thank Alfred and Rosemarie for sending noonsite this first-hand account:

Days after we left Reunion, we discovered our engine cooling system was not working and for several days, as we were sailing to pass 150nm south of Madagascar, we had been trying to fix it.  Not too much of an issue.  The sailing was good.

After checking that the seacock was not blocked (and noticing a slight leak there!) Alfred then replaced the impeller - which had been actually OK and fixing the new one made no difference.

We were slightly concerned that, without the engine's Balmar alternator system available, we could soon find ourselves without enough power - especially for the bilge pumps.

However, when a brand new 20mm 316 stainless steel mast-through-bolt (replaced during our haul-out before we left Thailand in January) sheered clean through at the mast top, bringing the inner stay and stays'l down, we had a big problem, because this was the main forward support of the mast.  Alfred lashed the topsail halyard to the bow as a temporary support, but our concern was for how long it would hold, and the possibility of the mast falling was real. We continued to sail (very well) with small yankee jib and reefed mainsail.

The steering problem arose the following day.

We were using the Autohelm and naturally considered this to be the problem.  Alfred replaced the motor with our spare, new one, but this made no difference. Neither did transferring the steering to the Aries wind vane solve it. We tried tiller-steering by hand (we've done it before!). The rudder would hardly move.  We had no steering - both Aries and Autohelm useless ( however many self-steering systems we might have carried!).

Now we could not steer, and could not find out why. By now we were hove-to, and were drifting with the east-going current.  Not even the right direction!

Ironhorse was a safe, well-found and maintained, and a comfortable ocean-going sailing yacht.  We were carrying  supplies on board sufficient for more than 3 months.

This situation had kept us from any real rest for almost 24hrs and we made a deliberate effort to sleep during our off-watch times overnight on 26th October.  We could not see any way out, and began discussing the unthinkable - abandoning Ironhorse, with all our 'worldly goods' and priceless souvenirs from our travels.
We had only Third Party insurance.

Mike (s/v Zen) was on the morning net on 27th October 2015, when Alfred made his report.

Ironhorse had been our home for the past 22 years as we cruised from the UK, across the Atlantic, through the Pacific, around SE Asia and were within a week of completing the Indian Ocean crossing to South Africa. In all our cruising years we'd experienced numerous equipment problems during ocean passages, none of which had beaten Alfred's ability and resourcefulness.

Unaware of our report on the net, the Dutch crew (whom we had never met) of  s/v Avanta,  within 5 miles of our position,  contacted us having noticed on their AIS that Ironhorse was making no progress. On learning of our dilemma, they very kindly offered to take us on board Avanta to Durban, and arrived under engine within an hour.

Alfred and I had prepared our small dinghy to launch and, with just a few possessions packed in 4 'Dry Bags' ( a few clothes and our computers and phones) transferred to our dinghy.  In spite of our efforts and those of the crew of Avanta, the sea conditions (4-5m waves and 20-25k winds) -  although fine for sailing - we judged were just too dangerous for us to board the bucking, rolling Avanta from our 2.5m RIB.

Even after the commercial vessel Bittern attended to give us lee,  conditions hardly moderated for us, and we still did not consider it safe to attempt a boarding of Avanta. Either the dinghy would have been capsized by the swimming platform or we would have been severely injured.

When Bittern lowered her rope boarding ladder, we made for that.

Suffice it to say that the various efforts to effect transfer from Ironhorse in such conditions, were far from easy.  We, like most, had never needed to try before!

Bittern was bound for Singapore where, 16 days later, we went ashore and prepared to return to the UK.

(We are well aware that thousands of cruising folk will be considering that they would have known exactly what to do and would either have made their way successfully to their destination, or at the very least, been able to transfer to another yacht.  We just hope they never find themselves in a position to have to try it! )

The event, from the time the Bittern was approaching, until Alfred and I arrived on their decks, was recorded on video by the crew - as they are obliged to do for any 'incident'.

Alfred and Rosemarie
(British s/v Ironhorse)

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Jan 25, 2016 02:19 PM

S/V Ironhorse - Washed up in Southern Madagascar
Reported by Edward Tucker Brown, MD of Mandrare River Camp - Manafiafy Lodge:
S/V Ironhorse washed up on Rocks in Ste Luce/Manafiafy (35km North East of Tolagnaro/Fort Dauphin) on Thursday Morning (21st January). It is now wrecked and although I did not inspect the hull, I presume there is a large hole. The local fisherman have taken any salvageable items and the wreck will eventually either wash ashore or sink totally, just the top of the cabin is above the water at resent.

edmundsteele says:
Jan 17, 2016 11:59 PM

We met Alfred and Rosemarie in Moorea and again in New Zealand in 2004. What great people and what a great boat “Ironhorse”. We are so sorry to hear of your loss.
Fair Winds,
Ed and Annette
[email protected]

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