2022 02 10 – Mutiny in the Antarctica

Alone in the Antarctica with a psychotic, violent crew, armed with a big knife.

Happy end, don’t worry.

Content

  • The mutiny
  • Who is JGT?
  • Why did this happen?

The mutiny

February 2, 2022: Sonabia 2 departs from Puerto Williams towards Antarctica. Aboard Eric (captain) and JGT (crew).

February 10, Melchior Islands, Antarctica. We are about to leave a mooring. JGT has a psychotic episode.

“I want to disembark now – I want to disembark now, turn back now –  etc.”. No way to reason with him.

While I am recovering a mooring line (rope tied to a big rock), JGT throws overboard the scythe and the machete used to clear the kelp (sea weed).

“I want no weapons abord!” he yells, “I don’t trust you and I dont trust myself”.

Well, HE is armed with a big knife that he brought aboard.

JGT becomes more and more agressive and tries to intimidate me: he threatens me and searches for physical contact.

I call Maite (my wife) by satellite phone. If I don’t contact her within 24 hours, she will report to the Chilean Navy.

I tell this to JGT. My life insurance, I say. JGT’s answer: “Good, if I prevent you from calling they will come for us”.

Not really what I expected. Therefore  I contact directly the Chilean Navy by satellite phone and  I inform on a mutiny.

From now on the Chilean Navy will keep permanent contact by satellite phone and keep my wife informed.

Every time I am on the phone, JGT yells as a rabid donkey, almost covering my voice.

Sorry for the comparison. Donkeys are sweet. 

At some point, JGT prevents me from reaching the pilot table. He seems busy taking pictures, writing notes… Obviously not steering the boat.

I expect that he won’t pee like a dog to mark his territory!

Either JGT wants to take control of the boat or he wants to cause damage, so that he will be rescued.

Paranoia? NO. In a former argument (February 8) he repeated several times that whatever mistake he did was my fault because I was the captain,  that if I could not prevent him from making errors I was no captain.

This sounds weird, but legally he is right… Except that I declared mutiny. In this case the captain is no longer held responsible. He is the only responsible for his acts.

JGT blocks me a first time. After a few minutes he reluctantly steps back and I can access to the pilot table.

A moment later, he does worse. He blocks the entry of the cabin and pushes me outside.

First physical agression. Enough! The boat is without pilot in a dangerous, narrow bay (“the Sound”) .

I grab him back, prevent him from pulling out his knife and throw a couple of punches.

I have to use persuasion to cool him down (to be precise I use a neck lock and a mooring rope). After some time, he  gives the signal that the struggle is over.

From now on he is agitated but no longer agressive. Instead, he takes selfies of his bleeding nose.

Selfie by JGT

I leave him make radio calls. He calls any boat around for help. However, I keep the satellite phone with me. Safer.

While we circle around Melchior Islands waiting for instructions, the Chilean Navy dispatches two sailboats to assist us.

The initial plan is to escort us towards the Navy Station Gonzalez Videla. However JGT makes a fuss, he does not want to be  in the hands of the Chilean Authorities.

So I accept a B plan, and we meet the sailboat Y  between Melchior islands Eta and Omega. We have to sail in a thick fog.

The fog, and the unmarked submarine rocks make things more interesting, thank you JGT.

We reach the meeting point, raft the two boats and JGT jumps aboad the Y.

JGT expects to sail back to Puerto Williams on the Y.  No way. First, the Y goes south, not north. Second, the crew does not want JGT aboard.

Instead, the Captain of Y uses his tender to drop JGT in an empty Argentinian station on another island,  2 miles away. Before that, he confiscates the knife.

Next day, the Argentinian vessel Bahia Agradable picks JGT up (the Argentinian and Chilean Navy patrol in turn).

After I got rid of JGT, I sailed deeper into the Antarctica, and back to Puerto Williams, single handed. This was a wonderful trip, and Sonabia 2 behaved very well.

On the way back I stopped at the Chilean Station Gonzalez Videla. It was the opportunity to meet these nice people and to thank them personally for their support.

Who is JGT?

His name is Josu Guerra Tolosa. He lives in Hondarribia, Spain, and owns the sailboat Spirit of Anuk.

When I wrote this post, on April 24, 2022,  I wanted to keep this anonymous. However, I saw on April 29 that JGT published an article in a Basque Journal, with names and  personal data.

So be it.

In his version, he is the heroe and the victim.  He mixes up facts and dates, there are omissions and invents. He does not care about contradictions.

However the article gives insights into his state of mind. This confirms  100% what we (Maite and I) analyzed afterwards. See below.

 

Why did this happen?

1) I did not know well  JGT and I only sailed a few times  with him.

The guy helped spontaneously for the construction of Sonabia 2 (he worked 64 hours). Out of gratitude, we invited him to sail to Antarctica.

Also we wanted to assess his potential as a crew for future trips. He was very proud of his sailing experience.

2) A high self esteem but no high latitudes experience

He writes (translated from Basque)  “I am a merchant marine officer, a high seas skipper, a professional sailor, I am not a beginner, I am a full-fledged sailor “

However he never sailed in the roaring forties, less in the screaming fifties or the Antarctica.  Sailing with tourists in the Mediterranean Sea does not prepare you for this.

3) A lesson giver that does not accept his own ignorance

Before we sailed JGT gave me an extensive lecture on the theme: “I always respect my crewmates, I never yell, etc.”.

Point taken, I am rather foul mouthed. When dealing with him, respect and no yelling .

However, at the first observation I did him (with respect, as he demanded) he exploded and threatened to disembark.

Departing from Puerto Williams, he did a fancy manoeuver to unraft us from another boat. Fancy but unsafe in windy conditions. I told him so. From his viewpoint, this was an unacceptable criticism.

I did not react to his outburst and this was a mistake.  I should have turned back to disembark him immediately. Later, it was too late.

The trigger of his crisis was another observation, this time in the Antarctica.

4) The fear of the Drake Passage and the Antarctica

The weather was strong in the Drake Passage and we found unfriendly easterly winds in the Antarctica.

Nothing exceptional but JGT was sick during most of the Drake crossing. After that, he started to mess up his manoeuvers.

Confirmation. He writes (translated from Basque) “Antarctica is not my landscape (…) Everything there is white and gray. It’s an incredibly harsh environment (…) Ice everywhere, even in the water. If you hit these blocks… And on the boat, with the heating on at all times, with gloves at all times (…). Now, it’s been a tough challenge! Cross the Drake Passage (…)”

Elsewhere he writes (translated from Basque) “I think Eric gets especially nervous when he senses that the weather is going to get worse, and maybe that’s why..”

A typical inversion of roles. I have a bit of experience in the high latitudes (including a former single handed sailing to Antarctica, 24 navigations to Cape Horn etc.).  Guess WHO gets nervous.

5) Poor understanding of the sailing conditions

JGT had a poor understanding of the weather conditions and the constraints they impose on the navigation.

This was clear right from the start.  In Puerto Williams, when all the skippers could see an obvious weather window to cross the Drake , he only saw heavy weather.

At some point during his crisis he said that he was unable to steer the boat back to Puerto Williams. This was honest.

Combine a lack of understanding, the stress and the refusal to accept his own ignorance and you have the conflict that triggered the crisis.

6) The triggering conflict

February 8, 21:30. At 19:00 I went to sleep and I asked JGT to wake me up at 21:00. The wind was expected to turn and as a skipper it is my role to monitor this.

When I woke up – by my own – at 21:30 the wind had already changed. The speed of the boat had dropped from 6-7 knots to 3 knots. Leeward, Brabant Island and its walls of ice.

Without entering into details, the rest of the navigation depended on the timing: we had to maintain our speed.

JGT was watching the nautical chart, doing nothing. I took his place at the pilot table, opened the throttle and the boat recovered her speed and her initial course.

I made him a clear criticism: his role was to wake me up. No way. He kept saying that he “did me a favor” by not waking me up and the change of wind was “nothing important”.

I tried very hard to keep my temper, but HE exploded. Among other things I learnt that whatever mistake he did was my fault , as the captain, and that if I could not prevent him from messing things up I was no captain.

7) My lack of patience and diplomacy

I have problems with incompetence and stupid discussions. They often go together.

When the job is done, everything is fine. Screw things up, start a pointless argument and we are in trouble.

Also, I admit that I cannot make a clear difference between  diplomacy and hypocresy. Not good for resolving conflicts.

When JGT yelled at me, spitting in my face and pointing his finger at my nose  I did not accept it an I yelled back.

I could not help it, even  if it is pointless to argue with donkeys.

After that, It was clear that JGT was useless as a crew. I just ignored him.  At least for a few days, until the conflict cools down.

8) Planned violence

This was too much pressure for JGT. He could not stand to be ignored, he had no patience to let things cool down. He was about to become violent.

He writes (translated from Basque) “It’s not easy to handle that. Think about it, you are in Antarctica, isolated, with no sailboats around. I feared that the only way to handle the situation (…) was the use force”.

This confirms what he yelled when he threw the cutting tools overboard: “I don’t trust you and I don’t trust myself”

Afterwards, I learnt that health professionals always consider the possibility of violence during psychotic episodes.

9) two crewmates: risky

A crew of 2 persons only works if they know well each other.

I already had a crewmate that became nervous and touchy (but not violent) under the effect of anxiety. Pity I  did not remember this before we departed.

With 3 or more crewmates, JGT would have been easier to control, physically and/or chemically. And all this mess would have been avoided.

10) Psychotic and panic attacks are common at sea

Afterwards, we reckoned that psychotic episodes and panic attacks are  frequent at sea.

In her book  Ocean Scrapers,  about Terranova fishermen, Anita Conti relates that a crew went mad and threw his own bed’s planks overboard.

This is why  the  Spanish Hospital ships that accompany the fishing floats have contention rooms (cells).

In addition, the high latitudes may worsen things. I personally knew four boats where such episodes occurred  (now five). JGT is only the second person that became violent.

Next time, we will select carefuly the crews. Not on the basis of their CV, on the basis of their attitude.

sailship sonabia 2

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2022 02 24 – Sonabia 2 in the Antarctic

After waiting for the validation of our vaccines, Sonabia 2 could enter Chile on January 27, and sail to the Antarctic Peninsula from February 2 to 24.

Before leaving we changed the original rudders for lenga wood pieces. Simpler and stronger.

Sonabia 2 fulfilled all the expectations, during the Drake Passage crossing (very strong on the way back) as well as during sailing and mooring in the Antarctic, often among floating ice.

From a different viewpoint, the trip has been … entertaining. I will tell you the story in future posts.

 

sailship sonabia 2

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2022 01 07 – Sonabia 2 in Cabo de Hornos

 

Sonabia 2 at anchor in Puerto Williams, 2022 01 03

 

Sonabia 2 sailed 7600 nautical miles from Hendaye, Basque Country, France to Puerto Williams, Cabo de Hornos, Chile.

This was the real test for Sonabia 2. Many things to improve, many problems fixed but overall the boat sailed wonderfully.

October 12: departure from hendaye

Sailing the northern coast of Spain: 2 1/2 days.

October 14 to 21: stop at La Coruña, Galicia, Spain.

Sailing around Cabo Finisterre,  the coast of Portugal and down to Islas Canarias: 9 days.

October 30 to november 3: stop at Santa Cruz de La Palma, Canarias. Volcan Cumbre Vieja active, clouds of ashes.

Atlantic crossing to Rio de La Plata: 35 days

December 8 to 19: stop at Mar del Plata, Argentina to repair the autopilot. Moored but not allowed  to go ashore for COVID regulations.

Sailing the roaring forties: 13 days 6 hours. The weather was not extreme but very tricky. Heaving-to 6 times.

January 2, 0300AM: arrival at Puerto Williams, Chile.

At anchor but not allowed to go ashore until our vaccines are validated.

January 26: All vaccines validated, autorized to go aground.

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2021 08 03 – Sonabia 2 under sail

Sonabia 2 was launched on 2021 07 29 at Socoa, Iparralde, France. She is an expedition boat for the Great South (Cape Horn, Antarctica)

First test under sail on 2021 08 03 at Hendaye, France.  Wind 6-8 knots, no waves, no current.

 

 

Sonabia 2 sails swiftly, I expected a brutal boat. In fact she is as smooth as a kitten.

Performance: true wind: 6.5 to 6.9 knots , speed 5.6 knots (close beating), 6.2 knots (open beating).

Not bad for an expedition boat! Configuration:  main and genoa 110m2, load~12.5 tons, keel down, 3.4 tons, draft 2.95m).

sailship sonabia 2

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2021 07 29 – Sonabia 2 floats

Sonabia 2 was launched yesterday in the port of Socoa, Iparralde, France (Basque Country).

Tricky, given the size of the boat, the narrow access and the shallow port, but everything went well, thanks to the Chantier Naval de Socoa (special thanks to the former manager, VF).

Then sailing with engine to Hendaye, where Sonabia 2 will be during the next weeks.

Program: extensive testing. Then if everything goes well, Cape Horn and Antarctica.

Almost 8 years since the start of the work. Special thanks to all the friends that helped us along the project, PC, OM, CT, JMA, JGT, PL, C&MP, MB and many others.

courtesy Sandrine

 

courtesy Sandrine

courtesy Teresa, Juan

 

courtesy Teresa, Juan

 

courtesy Thierry

 

courtesy Sandrine

 

courtesy Sandrine

 

courtesy Thierry

 

courtesy Thierry

 

 

 

 

sailship sonabia 2

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2018 12 21 – Cape Horn between two gales

2018 12 21 – Departure from Puerto Williams. We stop in Puerto Toro for the night

Picton Channel. Courtesy Jerry Swift

 

Puerto Toro. Courtesy Peter Goodier

 

2018 12 22 – Anchored at Caleta Martial, Herschel Island, Wollaston Archipelago. The wind is increasing, gusts above 45 knots. We wait.

2018 12 23 – 0600 We sail around Cape Horn during a short period of calm.  Residual swell ~3m

Cape Horn. Courtesy Jerry Swift

2018 12 23 – Back to Caleta Martial. Under engine, the wind is building up fast. During the night, gusts above 50 knots. We wait again

Caleta Martial, S/Y Vahiere in 40 knots. Courtesy Jerry Swift.

2018 12 14 – At 1900, we head north towards Puerto Toro and Puerto Williams. The wind has decreased to 25 knots, gusts above 30 knots.

sailship sonabia       

Jerry Swift’s paper: www.unmondedaventures.fr

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2016 01 29 – Cape Horn, 400 years

On January 29, 1616 Cape Horn was discovered by Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire on the vessels  Eendracht and Hoorn. The Cape was named for the city of Hoorn, in Netherlands.

400 years later, the Chilean Navy celebrated the event, and the sailship Sonabia was invited.

Carlos Guevara, Chilean Photographer with his wife and daugther, Sylvie, Damien were the crews of this nice trip.

Carlos’s account of the event (in spanish): Navegando a vela en Cabo de Hornos, una aventura para el recuerdo.

Photos courtesy of Carlos Guevara Vivanco.

Photos courtesy of Damien Lochon

sailship sonabia       

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2020 03 09 – The last swim of the sei whale

2020 03 09, Puerto Williams, Cabo de Hornos, Chile

12:30 – A whale is grounded in Seno Lauta, in front of the Micalvi Yacht Club, right next to the Sailing Yacht Sonabia.

It is a sei whale, 12m long or more. She is bleeding. The tide is low, she cannot pass.

We move 3 boats away to free the passage. A moment later she manages to turn back and swims freely but she grounds again, on the other shore of the Seno Lauta.

Killer whales where patrolling and they attack. The whale tries to escape but she cannot. At 17:00 she is dead. The tide is almost high, she is below water. The orcas keep on devouring her.

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