The Cruising Club of America has selected Susanne Huber-Curphey and Tony Curphey, a married couple and solo sailors who live together while in port, but sail their own boats cruising around the world to receive its prestigious 2008 Rod Stephens Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship. Huber-Curphey sails a 1964 Rhodes 41 fiberglass sloop, So Long, and her husband Tony's boat, Galenaia, is a 1958 plywood 27-foot heavy displacement cutter. Susanne, 47, is from Germany, and is an architect, while Tony, 63, who is English, is retired. Their dog, Honey, sails with Susanne, and because of severe pet laws in some countries, can change their cruising plans. The trophy was presented at the club's annual Awards Dinner in New York on January 13, 2009 by CCA Commodore Ross Sherbrooke, of Boston, Mass.
The couple had planned a passage from Bunbury in West Australia with their destination Lautoka, in Fiji. This non-stop voyage was to take them via the Great Australian Bight, south of Tasmania, and through the Tasman Sea west of New Zealand.
On the 29th day out of Bunbury, in gale force winds from the northeast, Tony noticed that Galenaia was taking water from aft. Upon inspection in heavy seas, he saw that the transom-hung rudder was cracked above the waterline, and that the skeg was broken. At their noon radio schedule Tony discussed the situation with Susanne and asked her to stand by on the radio every hour. He then rigged three lines over the transom, hoping to stop any movement of the skeg.
Susanne and So Long had been becalmed for four days and was now 150 miles ahead of Tony's Galenaia. In the afternoon, Tony told her, “If I have to be rescued, I would rather it was by my wife rather than authorities responding to an EPIRB deployment.” He later said, “We decided that she would make her way back to me, and in fact my brave, lovely wife had already changed course and was heading back towards me.”
The next morning the gale had gone, but rough and sloppy seas remained. Tony launched the Avon inflatable dinghy, and with wet suit, mask, and snorkel, he went in the water to inspect the damage. He discovered that the whole fore and aft length of the skeg, about a meter and a half, was broken away from the hull and leaning to port and that he rudder had snapped just above the waterline. The water influx required pumping once an hour.
The wind vane steering was still working, and the trim-tab attached to the lower half of the rudder worked, so Galenaia got under way. On the 28th of March, two days after she turned around and 31 days out of Bunbury, Susanne and So Long, with the aid of GPS and regular single sideband radio contact, made a visual sighting of Tony and Galenaia.
Susanne suggested towing, thinking that if the worst happened and Galenaia began breaking up, Tony at least would be on the end of a line. That would make it easier for him to get aboard So Long if he had to.
In late afternoon with a big swell running, and with masts coming perilously close together, the third attempt was successful and Tony got a heaving line across to So Long. Between them, they had about 80 meters of 16mm nylon towline. According to Tony, “the whole episode was quite nerve wracking.”
They decided to head for Port Nelson, at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand, about 650 nautical miles distant. Their main intention was to get north as quickly as possible to get out of the paths of the frequent cold fronts and gales which cross the Tasman Sea at that time of year. The weather during the tow ranged from calms when Susanne would motor, and up to force 7 or 8. Most of the time both boats had sails up, and both were using their wind vane steering. At one time Galenaia in very light weather managed to get the tow line around her keel. It was cleared with no further damage done.
Under the threat of another gale which might have proved too much for the damaged Galenaia, King Neptune smiled, and So Long towed Tony and his boat into Nelson harbor eight days and 650 miles after taking the tow in the Tasman Sea. They arrived on a Saturday afternoon, with Customs and harbor authorities forewarned, and after clearing Galenaia was lifted out of the water. According to Tony, “I was finally able to embrace my heroine after 39 days at sea, the last eight of which we were only 80 meters apart.”
Photo at right is Susanne Huber-Curphey accepting the award from CCA Commodore Ross Sherbrooke. Tony Curphey could not attend the ceremony.