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Evacuation from S/V Denali

By John Rousmaniere, A Berth to Bermuda (2006) © John Rousmaniere

One of the most striking boats in the Bermuda Race fleet in the late 1980s was a ketch-rigged 44-footer with her mainmast perched so far forward that she was unable to set a jib, and with a crew so tall they looked like members of a championship basketball team. She was named Denali because her owner, Larry Huntington, and his sons Matthew, Stewart, and Christopher (who often sailed together), had climbed the Alaskan mountain.

As Larry Huntington was going through Denali’s medical kit before the 1988 race, he debated whether he should renew the prescription for the antibiotic Methoxin until his wife, Caroline, told him that if the drug was ever needed but not on board, he would never be able to live with himself. Several weeks later, Denali was 250 miles from the finish when 23-year-old Matthew Huntington complained of nausea and began vomiting. A first-aid book indicated it might be appendicitis. Consulting the schedule for the race’s required rotating single-sideband radio watch, and also the list of doctors sailing in the race, Huntington found Dr. Peter Stovell on board Kittiwake. Stovell diagnosed appendicitis and instructed Larry to inject his son with the Methoxin every four hours. Stovell also urged that Matthew be hospitalized as soon as possible.

The options for evacuation were limited. Denali would need over a day to sail to Bermuda. An aerial pickup was a remote possibility. Even if it were safe for someone with abdominal distress, Denali would not be within the maximum 100-mile helicopter range from Bermuda until after dark.

That left evacuation by boat. When Huntington called the largest race entry standing radio watch, the 70-footer Karyatis, to request a radio relay to shore, her owner, Christos Kritikos, did not hesitate to offer to drop out of the race and carry Matthew to Bermuda. Kritikos joined a long roster of Bermuda Race skippers who offered assistance to vessels in trouble, usually by forwarding a message or by standing by a disabled boat until the arrival of a tow. Among them were Shorty Trimingham, Pierre du Pont, Huey Long (who interrupted Ondine’s record run for 16 minutes in 1976), and Emanuel Greene, whose Circe stood by a dismasted boat in the 1976 race for nine hours, 55 minutes. The race committee deducted assisting vessels’ times on station from their elapsed times (Circe ended up second in Class F), but in the case of the generous Christos Kritikos there would be no elapsed time because he was dropping out of the race entirely.

At 0100 Denali’s well-padded bow nudged alongside Karyatis’ after quarter, and Matthew stepped aboard with his brother Stewart. By the time Denali tied up at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club marina late in the following afternoon, Matthew had been operated on and was ready to head out and risk much more than his abdomen on a motorbike.