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Sailor Soldier Lover

Sailor Soldier Lover

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Sailor Soldier Lover

311 página
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Jul 2, 2011


A factual account of an extraordinary saga of resiliency, courage and sailing skill by a continuous twice-around solo ocean circumnavigator in a 43-foot sailing yacht.

Jul 2, 2011

Sobre el autor

A former foreign correspondent who has seen service in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Lon Bram is a senior journalist and literary critic. His articles and short stories ranging from politics to science and technology are published in Australian and international newspapers and magazines. An experienced navigator Lon has sailed the Mediterranean Sea, the West coast of Africa, the Caribbean and has crossed the Atlantic Ocean along the 16th parallel in 18 days in his 46-foot French-designed yacht Corazon. He created the 800-mile Golden Fleece Melbourne to Melbourne yacht race that circumnavigated Tasmania East-about against the prevailing Southwesterly winds sweeping unimpeded from the Indian Ocean; has skippered the Australian Army entry in the Sydney Hobart race in his 40-foot American designed yacht Ariadne of Melbourne; competed in the West Coast Melbourne to Hobart yacht races and circumnavigated Tasmania West-about as well as having cruised extensively Australia’s East Coast in both directions. Lon’s seventh ocean-going vessel was the 11.5-meter cutter rigged masthead sloop Xarifa. “I have had my share of gales and storms on the high seas. That is why I feel unbounded admiration for Ron Llewellyn’s superb solo seamanship, courage, extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness in the face of real danger,” NOTE: Lon Bram passed away on the 26th June 2013. R.I.P.

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Sailor Soldier Lover - Lon Bram


Adventures of a Twice Around Solo Navigator

by Lon Bram and Ron Llewellyn

Copyright 2008 Lon Bram and Ron Llewellyn.

Smashwords Edition

All Rights Reserved

This book is dedicated to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Simon Stone a fine yachtswoman lovingly known as Araldite for her reluctance to pass the helm over to the next watch.


CHAPTER I - 2nd Circumnavigation:

Force 12 hurricane; capsized near Cape Horn; devastation, broken mast and rigging; desperate pumping; manage to start engine but lose liferaft.

CHAPTER II - Flashback to Vanuatu

Romantic episode in the South Pacific

CHAPTER III - 1st Circumnavigation:

Flashback to planning the first circumnavigation.

CHAPTER IV - 1st Circumnavigation:

Start of Ron's first circumnavigation

CHAPTER V - 1st Circumnavigation:

Darwin to South Africa

CHAPTER VI-2nd Circumnavigation:

Ron decides to  motor his broken yacht around Cape Horn rather than tangle with the Chilean Navy; anchors in Bahia Aguirre at the eastern end of the Beagle Canal

CHAPTER VII-2nd Circumnavigation:

Flashback to start; Sula casts off from Australia, storms & broken gear; southwards to New Zealand

CHAPTER VIII -1st Circumnavigation

Flashback; nightmares on the long trek from South Africa to Brazil

CHAPTER IX -2nd Circumnavigation

Stubborn treck towards the redoubtable Cape Horn and the shelter of mysterious Tierra del Fuego.

CHAPTER X -2nd Circumnavigation

Through Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Canal to the world’s most southern city, Ushuaia; recalling personality changing early traumas

CHAPTER XI-1st Circumnavigation

Flashback; from St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic to a hedonistic time in Brazil.

CHAPTER XII - 1st Circumnavigation

Flashback; getting acquainted with the exciting underbelly of the Caribbean

CHAPTER XIII -1st Circumnavigation:

Flashback; transiting the Panama Canal or How to Hop Safely Between Two Great Oceans

CHAPTER XIV-2nd Circumnavigation:

From frozen Ushuaia to the delights of Mar del Plata and the multifaceted excitement of Argentina

CHAPTER XV -2nd Circumnavigation

Nightmare crossing, back in Brazil and falling in love with gorgeous Magdalena

CHAPTER XVI -1st Circumnavigation

Flashback; 4000-mile Pacific Ocean crossing while tasting the sweet fragrance of swaying palms and admiring the undulating hula skirts.

CHAPTER XVII -2nd Circumnavigation:

Finally anchored in a secluded bay in Brazil, Ron is welcomed by the dusky beauties of Bahia.

EPILOGUE-2nd Circumnavigation:

Between superbly contoured Elvira and fetchingly pretty Marli will Ron ever return to Australia?

ILLUSTRATIONS--Index to illustrations

The Authors:

- Lon Bram

- Ron Llewellyn


At midnight on February 4 2005, on the second solo circum navigation of the world, on his-43-foot yacht SULA, Ron Llewellyn was hit by a massive, rogue wave the noise and power of which remains for ever carved in his psyche.

In the wild Southern Ocean, 375 miles west of the ship-hungry Cape Horn, 54 years old Ron felt the boat being forced sideways and continuing to roll until she was completely upside down. With the rushing sound of ice sliding down a chute, freezing water was rising around him.

Above, through the sea that closed like a heavy curtain around Sula’s hull he could still hear the muffled roar of the savage storm.

A perennial dare-all type, for the first time in his life the illusion of indestructibility deserted him.

In fast forward, the images of his first circumnavigation of the globe three years earlier flashed through his mind.

Until now he had been naturally wary of the angry ocean, even concerned at times but never afraid of the strong gales he had encountered Even when serving as a Special Forces Jumpmaster parachuting from 30,000 feet to achieve a five-mile freefall I felt exhilaration not fear, Ron says.

Nor did he have time to be afraid when struggling with the controls of the plane diving at 200 miles an hour toward the rocky ground rushing up to meet him.

Delta Papa India this is Brisbane Control. Do you have control of the aircraft? The voice of the Air Traffic Controller broke through the noise of the screaming, wing wrenching dive.

Heaving desperately back on the column, knuckles locked, the ‘G’ force pushing him down into the seat, chin forced onto his chest, knowing that death could be only moments away, Ron croaked through the headset microphone, Not….y.. yet.

Totally disoriented and not knowing which way was up or down the dense cloud which enveloped the plane blocked vision of the rugged ground racing up to meet him. The technical term for this predicament is ‘spatial disorientation’. At low altitude few pilots are able to regain control of their aircraft before crashing to their deaths.

Some years before Ron had read an article in an aviation safety magazine reporting on research carried out by the University of Illinois in which 20 ‘guinea pig’ pilots, untrained in instrument flying, were put in simulated weather conditions at an altitude of 1,500 feet. All twenty went into ‘graveyard spirals’ or ‘roller coasters’. The time interval until impact with the ground varied between 20 seconds and 480 seconds, the average was 178 seconds! Two seconds short of three minutes. Reading that article saved my life," Ron recalls

This was not the first time Ron had found himself in a life threatening situation, nor was it to be his last, as this narrative will reveal.

Once again disoriented upside down in the raging southern ocean, now he was afraid. Unused to this feeling he still found time to ask himself why, why? When facing death old memories flood in fast forward. Suddenly he remembered. Once before, more than two decades earlier, he had been afraid. He was 28 years old when the painful family secret of which he was the centre was brutally revealed. A man, an adult an officer in Australia’s defense forces yet he was staggered, confused, his personality undermined, he was Afraid!

Long before that, during his mother’s absences from home when his father oscillated between devotion and clumsy reserve he had felt something was amiss but the child’s heart deep inside him had been unwilling to know.

In time he angrily banished the fear from his adolescent life. But now, a mature, steel-forged adventurer, it was back, overwhelming, all engulfing like the rogue wave that rolled him over.

Only those few sailors in small boats who have experienced the murderous fury of a hurricane at sea can begin to imagine what Sula and Ron were enduring at that moment.

‘Begin’ is the correct word because, the powerful air mass that hit and overturned Sula in the vicinity of the dreaded Cape Horn had been instrument-recorded at 120 knots or 221 kph (Chilean Naval Weather Station, Cabo do Hornos) had originated in the Antarctic Ocean. Two years earlier a couple and their yacht were lost in a gale only 30 miles from where Sula was rolled.

After it rolled over Sula the storm moved on and was compressed between the Andes Mountains and Antarctica intensifying as it forced its way through the Drake Passage between Antarctica and Cape Horn.

Satellite picture of the storm that rolled Sula.

Sula's location is indicated by the small red square.

To the upper right of the image you can just make out the outline of South America, with Cape Horn almost level with Sula on the right hand edge.

After what felt like an eternity, the rolling movement seemed to stop. Ron felt it was time to stand up and face the main hatch. So this is where it happens, he said to himself knowing he could not survive capsized in this part of the world. Slowly, he crouched then began to stand up on the yacht’s ceiling, now under his feet, when suddenly there was a frightful shudder and in another fit of crashing and banging Sula rolled back upright - as a well built sailing vessel with judiciously distributed load should. It felt like the longest ten seconds of his life. Ron’s ship log faithfully reflects those dramatic moments. I did not know it then but the forward hatch had been torn open and one of the storm-boards was smashed-in flooding the inside with freezing water. I sloshed my way in pitch darkness through water and debris to the main hatch. Realizing what had happened I quickly pushed half my body through only to be greeted by a torrent of water washing over the deck.

Sula’s deck after the rollover heading for Tierra del Fuego

The wave passed but, with monstrous strength the wind pinned my shoulders against the hatch frame. Peering anxiously through the darkness and the breaking seas I was able to make out the outline of an appalling scene of destruction. The white deck-stepped mast was lying on the foredeck resting on the mangled pulpit under twisted, collapsed and broken rigging wire. The dodger and awning over the cockpit were warped in a tangled mass of material and twisted stainless steel tubes. The disabled ship was shuddering and twisting under the attack of the giant waves at once pushing her downwind and washing over her deck threatening to pluck up and sweep me overboard together with the rest of the tortured metal all around. The knowledge that I was in very serious trouble engulfed me. I was soaking wet and knew if I didn't do something about it fast I would die from hypothermia.

The deafening howl of the wind and brutal assault of the giant waves breaking on Sula seemed to be getting worse. Approaching stealthily panic was not far. Now Ron was having trouble breathing as if something was caught in his throat trying to block his wind pipe. Ron knew he had to shake off the paralyzing fear or go down with his boat. From deep within he called up the power of anger. The anger long blanketed by his overcompensating feelings of invulnerability. Determined to save himself and Sula he made an extraordinary effort to join the rising adrenalin-fed wrath to the strict disciplines of the true sailor and the highly trained soldier.

Propelled like a powerfully kicked football by the confused battering of the waves smashing against the hull and terrified of being rolled again, Ron nevertheless struggled to secure the hatch replacing the smashed storm-board with a spare.

The inside of the boat was a shambles. The scene was made more eerie by the scream of the high water bilge alarm siren as the automatic bilge pump kicked in. Ron clawed his way forward into the fore-cabin where he was devastated to find the hatch had also been torn off and everything inside was flooded and soaked. Things were just getting worse. He had to cover the hatch opening or else the next wave over the boat would sink them. Fighting his way back through the boat and out through the main hatch he crawled serpent-like along the deck amidst the tangle of lines and wires. But the mandatory safety harness, stored at the entrance to the cockpit ready to put on before going on deck was lost in the rollover somewhere in among the shambles of equipment inside and probably under the water covering the floor.

If he did not seal the forward hatch immediately it would not matter what he was wearing, he would lose the boat and his life. Such was the dire urgency of that moment that six years after the event Ron’s recollection is crystal clear: I was fully aware of the risk I was taking. It was a life or death decision. I did not have the minutes to search for the harness in the pitch black, flooded interior. As it turned out there was nothing to attach the harness to. Anything I clipped onto could have been swept off the deck at any time taking me with it. My movement forward was a terrifying but resigned understanding that this had to be done. There was no option. I never stopped talking to myself and pushing myself. The cold was numbing, the wind was tearing at me and the sea was doing everything it could to throw me off the deck. If I did not secure the forward hatch, I was dead and if I could not save myself I held little hope that anyone else would have been able to help.

The forward hatch was still attached by its hinges but trapped under the fallen mast and impossible to close. Somehow, out of sheer desperation, with fingers frozen he managed to remove the hinge pins, securing them in his mouth, slide the hatch out from under the mast and refit it to seal off the opening. As the hatch ‘dogs’ had snapped off he had to wire the hatch to prevent it from opening. All this while still at the mercy of the battering gale.

By the time Ron got back inside and sealed the main hatch the hypothermia problem was critical. Eventually he found some less wet clothing and layered it on. There was now nothing he could do on deck until daylight so he began to assess damage below.

The ingress of water had played havoc with most of the electrics though fortunately not the bilge pump. Eventually he managed to get two very small reading lights to work revealing a snake-pit of cushions, carpet, fruit, vegetables, books and other bits and pieces sloshing around on the floor. (It was a testament to the preparedness of Sula to note that not one of the two dozen bottles of wine nor any glass jars were broken in the rollover.)

Suddenly the reassuring whirring of the automatic bilge pump ceased. Pushing buttons and switching toggles did not help. The electric pump had failed. Impelled by desperation Ron struggled back outside to use the manual pump located in the cockpit.

Interminably he kept on pumping until, a life time later, arm muscles aching, heart drumming and breathing a painful staccato, the water was down just below the floor level.

While on deck securing the fore-hatch he noticed the dinghy, carefully adapted and equipped to serve also as a liferaft, was hanging over the starboard side.

In full State Transport survey as a 5 person liferaft/positive floatation tender, it was approved to category-one standard. Prepared for long-passage survival conditions, it was equipped with a full ‘Day Glo’ orange canopy, EPIRB, flares, solar still, a large quantity of water and rations plus many other articles of safety and survival equipment. With 2mm aluminium plate construction and seven watertight chambers this liferaft far surpassed the usual inflatable liferaft carried by most small vessels and was secured to the deck by a 5000 kg winch tie-down, fitted with a hydrostatic release.

The limited reliability of standard life-rafts that are also susceptible to being tumbled by high winds is well documented, as witnessed in the Sydney to Hobart disaster of 1998.

Secure in his expert mariner knowledge Ron comments: Some sailors dislike inflatable dinghies particularly for serious cruising around coral and third-world country wharves and landings. Yet, the forces of cyclonic wind, the weight and travel speed of the rogue wave that hit Sula amidships proved irresistible despite the extraordinary precautions and care in fastening it securely to the deck ready for emergency release. Sula’s dinghy/liferaft was secured to the deck on raised chocks incorporating half inch stainless steel, through deck, eyebolts to the 5000kg tiedown and a heavy, 2200 kg line securing it to the toe rails. This and the two weather eyebolts failed. The liferaft was swept overboard.

Wet, exhausted and shivering with cold, at 3:30 am . Ron went out to try and retrieve it. He could hardly feel his frozen arms and fingers and was now in the precarious position of clinging to a heaving deck while trying to hold on for dear life to the painter attached to the 100kg dinghy being wrenched away from him by powerful waves and high wind. At all cost, Ron felt he had to hang on. To do that he first had to gain control over Sula’s erratic movement. If read carefully before a long trans oceanic voyage Sula’s log would be a potential life saver. Here the vessel’s Master outlines the minutia of the patient, practical steps he took in this vital next phase of his self rescue at sea. Securing the dinghy to a halyard I made a decisive movement toward the main hatch aware that the next vital task was to try and start Sula’s 50HP Perkins engine. Everything now depended on whether the engine started. Even then doubts assailed me. Had the violence of the rollover knocked it out of alignment the shaft could be bent or fractured. Then there were the wires and lines dragging over the side that could easily have fouled the propeller.

Stiffly, reluctantly, he got up and lowered himself into the cabin. Once more the thorough training and discipline of the professional soldier took over. Ron began a systematic check of everything that would play a role in the operation of the engine. Before attempting to turn the starter key, oil and water levels, battery acid levels and battery charge had to be checked. Other than a thin dusting of scum and debris from their brief immersion, the house batteries and the main cranking battery appeared safe in their cradles with cables to the terminals well connected.

Those were anxious moments. The wind generator had been turned off in the storm abut somewhere on the rollover all three blades had broken off to less than half their original length. Just for the hell of it, Ron recalls, I turned it on and was amazed to see the ampere meter registering 10 amps and the house battery meter moving into the green. I turned the propeller shaft by hand to check the engine alignment and make sure it was free. Prior to this I had retrieved all lines from overboard.

By then it was 7am. exactly seven hours after Sula had turned over 360 degrees. He suddenly remembered that it was also the scheduled time for the Patagonia Cruisers Net radio covering the region. Ron turned on the radio transmitter and called the station repeatedly. (Prior to this he had meticulously freed the HF backstay aerial from the tangle of rigging isolating it from other metal. The aerial insulator can be seen in photos attached to a speader, the highest part of the fallen rig.) Distressingly there was no response. Even so he broadcast Sula’s position, reported the rollover and recovery and advised that he would try to start the engine and head for Chile. There was no response. Dejected he assumed the station had not heard him. But another two boats had picked up his broadcast and had relayed it on to the radio station.

The storm was still raging furiously and for all intents and purposes Sula was adrift. There was no time to waste energy in engaging in relay exchanges. Ron decided to try again if he managed to start the engine.

Now came the big moment. Would it start? With strained nerves he turned the key but … nothing. Ron immediately thought that the starter motor was probably out of action from being flooded then again maybe it was just the ignition switch, which had also been underwater. Undefeated he pulled the engine cowl off and checked the alternator and solenoid then hit the remote starter he had sensibly installed to allow him to turn the engine over when working on it. And Lo! the engine did turn over. Ron went back to the control panel to give it some throttle and thought he would just try the ignition again. His relief at it starting was exceeded only by the alternator also kicking in and charging. Now, would the drive train engage? He admits he jumped for joy as the gear box engaged and the prop started pushing Sula forward. Always careful he dived below to check the transmission rear seal, which would almost certainly fail if the alignment was out.

As long as everything held together Ron was now mobile. This was certainly the most defining moment in effecting his own rescue. It was also time to retrieve the life-raft which must have been under tow for 10 hours before he finally got the engine started and commenced to tow it toward Chile. The seas were still 5-6 meters at the time and the shock caused by Sula surging down the waves was more than the 14 mm halyard could handle. It snapped. The liferaft floated astern. In desperation Ron turned Sula around to try and retrieve it, which in the prevailing conditions was in itself a dangerous maneuver. Anxious moments he recalls vividly:

I had lost sight of the dinghy amongst the breaking seas but eventually found it and made my approach. As I got near it Sula surged down a wave colliding heavily with the dinghy. I realized that what I was doing was not only near impossible in such conditions but that colliding with it could damage Sula’s hull. Time: 1140hrs, nearly twelve hours since I was rolled.  I abandoned the retrieval and turned for Chile. I am still in awe at the power of the water that struck me. Whereas my life-raft lasted for half an hour before it was totally overcome by the sea, an inflatable would not have lasted two minutes. I wrote in my ship’s log I have no doubt that my life-raft is still afloat and will probably be recovered one day. I am devastated by its loss and my passages will be far less safe without it."

Emotionally and physically played out Ron decided to wait for conditions to moderate further before crawling back below in an effort to restore a modicum of order while Sula, equipped with additional fuel tanks, continued to steam uneasily toward the nearest haven. In the cockpit of Sula, swaying with the movement of the sea, he allowed his

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