J.& R. Limantas
November 29, 1994- My friend, Linas Ivanauskas and I left lush Rio de Janeiro in the evening aboard my 28 foot English-built Seamaster “Aura”. We were heading south to Buenos Aires and Cape Horn beyond.
The sight of the statue of the Kristus shining from atop Rio’s steeply mounded hills seemed to wish us well in our journey. Fair weather and good visibility sped us on our way.
As we sailed further south, the weather gradually began to change. In the evenings, we would frequently notice lighting flashes and threatening clouds far off to the west.
Rain squalls increasingly passed over us. We accepted all this as normal. Unsettled weather is typical of the South Atlantic spring, but what we experience the morning of December 5 about 200 miles NE of Punta del Este scares me to this day.
As dawn lighted the sky, strange violet hued clouds passed overhead even though the barometer was holding steady. A wall of white clouds covered the southwestern horizon and soon moved swiftly toward us – PAMPERO – the infamous wind which roars down the Andes gathering speed as it crosses the South American pampas.
The wind speed started to increase very quickly. We immediately doused all the sails and stowed them below. A storm like this can tear the sails off the hanks. At this point, we were flying only the storm jib. We changed course just as a wall of water with steep waves at least 40’ high overtook us. At first, we tried to maintain our course toward Buenos Aires.
We were in a hurry to meet friends who would join us for the remainder of the trip to Cape Horn. They were due to arrive within the week from Lithuania.
The wind was now blowing10-11 on the Beaufort scale [50-60 knots]. When the boat reached the tops of the waves, the wind would knock us on our beam even with only the storm jib flying.
As we dropped between the enormous waves, the wind disappeared and we lost all headway. At this point we were still not following the accepted practice of running with the wind and waves or letting out a sea anchor… besides we were in a hurry to get to Buenos Aires.
As we ran parallel with the waves, the boat settled into a smooth rhythm. We set the windvane self-steerer and anchored ourselves in our bunks below. We even managed to sleep.
At about 2 a.m. all hell broke loose: food, books, clothes, and tools rained down on our heads. Water streamed through seams in the main hatch. The gas oven jumped out of its gimbaled seat and hit the bulkhead between our bunks.
Luckily, this saved us from having our skulls staved in. The navigation dividers quivered in the wood millimeters from my head. The boat had been rolled by a breaking wave.
It was not a complete roll-over, but we had definitely had our keel in air. Judging by the angle required for the oven to jump its seat, we were only a few degrees short of a total rollover.
The entire roll-over only took a few seconds, but the feeling will never leave me.
"Aura" turns over and rights herself. Drawings by R. Limantas
With dread we hurried on deck. Thanks to sturdy construction and the doubling of
shrouds, the mast was standing. Before making this journey, I had change shrouds
from 3/16” to 1/4” and added a second forestay along with two extra backstays. All
we had lost were two canisters that had been tied to the lifelines, the wind direction
vane, the radio antenna from the top of the mast, and the dodger’s window was broken.
At this point all thoughts of sleep disappeared. We change course to run with the
wind, and streamed about 200 yards of 12 mm line off the stern to steady the boat.
By morning, the wind calmed and we could change course back toward shore. Tension
remained high during the four days it took to reach the mouth of the La Plata River
near Punta del Este. Thanks to the Pampero, we were two days late meeting our friends.