On the evening of August 1, John King was racing on a Sonar sailboat during the weekly Wednesday races that attract many boats and their crews to Greenport Harbor and along Shelter Island’s coast. He and his crew were off Jennings Point and Camp Quinipet when his friend turned to him and said, “I think there’s a boat sinking.”
Mr. King looked back and saw that Badger, a 31-foot sailboat, had swamped and was beginning to go under. A Buzzards Bay 25, the boat is owned by Ross Allonby, who was onboard with two guests.
A minute later, Mr. King said, it was gone,
Islander Zak Bliss was watching the race from a motorboat nearby and “arrived in less than 30 seconds” to pull the three sailors out of the water, according to Mr. Allonby. The Coast Guard and Jeff Bresnahan, the head of Shelter Island Yacht Club’s junior sailing program, were also quickly on the scene as other race participants turned their boats around to offer assistance. No one was injured.
“The response was first class and I am very thankful for that,” Mr. Allonby said.
“In the past at the yacht club we’ve seen boats sink but they’ve all been recovered,” Mr. Bresnahan said.
In April a 34-foot vessel sank off Orient Point.
“It was just a perfect storm” of factors that caused Badger to sink, Mr. Bresnahan said. Conditions were “very windy” and rough that evening, with gusts blowing up to 25 knots, according to the Orient Yacht Club’s Windfinder report. The current was ripping and the wind was building, but it was “nothing unusual,” Mr. Allonby said.
He described the evening as “totally fine. As far as sailing conditions are concerned, we’ve been in much worse weather.”
As Mr. Allonby and his crew passed Conkling Point on the Southold side, they were hit by a severe gust just as they crossed the tide line. Mr. Allonby pushed the tiller away and immediately tried to ease the mainsheet, but the mainsheet block had swiveled away from him and the line immediately next to the cleat was jammed behind a lifted floorboard. He was unable to release the mainsheet in the vital seconds needed to ease out the sail.
The vessel “broached,” or heeled over, with the sail laying flat in the water. It then filled with water and quickly began to submerge.
“This sequence of events all occurred in less than 60 seconds,” he said.
For four days after the incident, it seemed like Badger might be lost forever. Mr. Allonby spent half a day with a local salvage company going over the site where his boat sank, but was unable to find any wreckage.
“The water drops from 30 feet to 80 feet there,” Mr. Bresnahan said the morning after the incident. “With the sails fully rigged and the current ripping like it was, Badger could be in Connecticut, for all we know.”
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Allonby was out racing on the boat Varuna when Islander Dan Clark zoomed down the Greenport Channel to say he “thought he had a good sighting of Badger on his sonar” south of the North Ferry.
A commercial fisherman, Mr. Clark was able to use sophisticated technology on his fishing boat to pick up something that the salvage companies had missed.
After the race, Mr. Allonby went out on Mr. Clark’s boat to confirm his sighting and is “95 percent confident” that the sonar image he saw is Badger.
At press time the owner was working to verify if it’s his craft and put a salvage plan in place.
A man who “makes his living from the bay,” and wished to remain anonymous, contacted the Reporter expressing his concern about a “toxic bloom” that might result from diesel and oil he suspected was onboard Badger.
Mr. Allonby stated that the boat only had a three-gallon tank that was sealed and practically empty.
After the dramatic turn of events, Mr. Allonby wasn’t interested in second guessing. ““Even the knife in my pocket was no use in the few seconds that I had to stop the broach,” he said. “We have pushed her so much harder in much heavier conditions, but this time it was literally the perfect storm.”
He expressed relief that everyone came out of alive and there were no injuries.”That’s sailing,” he added. “These things happen.”