Michael Neumann had been planning a trip like this for 50 years. He and Barbara emigrated to Canada from Poland, and that is when he began planting the seeds for his trip. “Each Christmas he would get me some boat things,” explained Barbara, whose Polish nickname is “Basia.” “A fender here, some flares. I got the point. This was going to happen.” The boat was built in France in 2007 to Michael’s specifications, and he and Barbara joined the ARC rally from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in 2007.
“Barbara had this misconception,” said Michael. “With 250 boats, she thought we’d see everyone the whole time. We wound up not seeing anyone until St. Lucia.”
The couple began the 2008 World ARC but split from the group and stayed in the idyllic waters of New Caledonia for two years. Since the fee for the World ARC is non-refundable, the World Cruising Club allowed the Neumanns to join the 2010 fleet in Mckay, Australia, to complete their circumnavigation.
The Neumanns are in their 60s and sailed the World ARC with both of their daughters. For the long leg from Recife to Grenada, it was just Anna with them. About 200 miles off the Amazon River delta, in the early hours of the morning, Michael noticed on the radar a ship 12 miles away heading toward Basia. He attempted to hail it and at six miles out made a 20-degree course change to starboard. It seemed the ship had done the same, allowing for a clear pass. At one mile Michael noticed the ship had changed to a collision course. He turned hard to starboard with the engines full ahead, but it was too late. They were struck first on their port bow before the ship’s overhanging bow tore down their mast.
“There were three hits,” said Michael. “The last was when they turned back into us. The freighter was floating high, and I was afraid the large prop that was partially clear of the water would chop us up, but they turned away just in time.”
The ship stopped about two miles away and radioed to another rally boat that there was a sailboat in distress. When Graham Payne aboard Eowyn arrived at sunrise, two hours after the accident, the ship motored over the horizon. Michael noted that its AIS transceiver was turned off, leaving no trace of its identity or ownership.
Eowyn, a Hallberg Rassy 40, and five other boats worked together to transfer 500 liters of fuel to the stricken Basia. With no radar or navigation lights, Basia was vulnerable, so two other catamarans, Jeannius and Tucanon, as well as Eowyn, stayed with the boat and shadowed the Neumanns. The caravan acted as a safety net, radioing to oncoming ships, monitoring fuel consumption and, most importantly, providing reassuring voices during hourly check-ins via SSB radio.
“The first phase was to get as many yachts there as possible,” explained Payne, who formulated the initial rescue plan. “We didn’t know if she was sinking.” Though there were leaks in one of Basia’s hulls, they were manageable, and Payne was happy to hear that the rig had been cut away. “They had the explosive-type rig cutters,” he recalled. “That didn’t work so they used a hacksaw.”
After their emotional arrival in Grenada, Basia was hauled and insurance agents took over. Once ashore, the Neumanns were without the floating home they had enjoyed for three years. So the other World ARC sailors did what a family does: they rallied in support. “We let them stay aboard Ocean Jasper for as long as they wanted,” said Geddes, who was one of several offering their boats.
Completing the rally aboard Basia and sailing to the awards ceremony in St. Lucia was not an option. But the Neumanns were driven. “We have to be there for the finish,” said Barbara Neumann shortly after they arrived in Grenada. “It’s very important to be with our family.”
True to form, Dick and Irene Craig aboard their Lagoon 440 Tucanon took Michael and Barbara to St. Lucia. Their daughter Anna sailed with the Thomas family aboard their Sundeer 60 Crazy Horse and their other daughter, Cat, flew to the awards ceremony.
It is no surprise that offshore rallies like this have been growing in popularity. Though there will not be a World ARC in 2012, the event will become annual starting in 2013. Meanwhile, the World Cruising Club’s keystone event, the ARC, is as popular as ever. It is a logical stepping-stone to the circumnavigation and also serves as a feeder to the larger event.
“It’s like Everest, but even more about the journey,” says World ARC manager Paul Tetlow, who, along with Suzana Buraca, ran all shore-side support for this most recent edition of the event. “It’s because your destination is where you started.”