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S/Y Trashman
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 7:39 PM
Joined: 01/05/2008
Posts: 41

Dockwalk magazine's regular column, What Went Wrong, highlights a different marine accident each month, focusing on the lessons learned. We've received feedback that some readers would like to comment on it. So we're republishing it in the forum so you can have your say.


This month is about the S/Y Trashman. It's part two of the yacht's saga and follows last month's column, "The Sinking," which can be read through Digital Dockwalk here,

Here's part two, the struggle for survival in the life raft.


In September 1982, a mismatched crew of five made way from Annapolis en route to Fort Lauderdale aboard a poorly maintained 58-foot sailboat under command of a questionable captain. Three days into the delivery, an unanticipated storm blindsided the crew with 40-foot seas and hurricane-force winds, which tore the boat apart. The crippled yacht was thrown off a wave and began to sink.

In the absence of strong leadership, abandoning ship was a disaster. The life raft was improperly deployed by a panicked crewmember and blew away with its full complement of supplies, leaving the crew with nothing more than an 11-foot Zodiac and no emergency supplies in the midst of the violent storm.

While attempting to get off the sinking yacht, the captain’s girlfriend, Meg, was repeatedly washed into the rigging by the raging waves and was horribly injured. Capt. John and delivery crew Mark had been on a drinking binge throughout the ill-fated journey and were no help. The remaining two crewmembers, Deborah Scaling Kiley and another competent sailor named Brad, struggled beside their crewmates to get to the capsized Zodiac in what Kiley describes as “the long torture of fighting the waves,” which was punctuated by moments when “the wind would suddenly snatch the Zodiac and carry it away, forcing us all to swim for it.”

During the three-day exposure to the storm, the crew struggled with the physical demands of the situation, the emotional torment of their ordeal and the threat of sharks, which had picked up on the blood from Meg’s wounds and congregated around them beneath the Zodiac.

Drawing on her will to survive and her faith, Kiley says, “I knew I had to concentrate on survival, staying alive and staying sane, minute by minute…[I knew the] one thing I could control was my own emotional state.”

Capt. John and Mark were in bad shape, she says “after all their drinking, they’d begun with a serious deficit in terms of nutrition, hydration and stamina.” She recalls that their emotional state “veered from hysteria to despair” and that “Brad seemed the steadiest of the others.” As the days wore on, Kiley says, “I sensed that [Brad and I] both knew that the other three were at best useless, [and] at worst doomed.” Kiley and Brad made a pact to take turns sleeping and guarding one another and set up normal watches.

Kiley recalls Brad waking her on the third night. “John and Mark were leaning over the side, drinking sea water,” she says. “I knew they were going to die, I just didn’t know yet how terrible their deaths would be.”

By the next day, Mark and John began showing signs of having snapped; they accused their crewmates of having stolen imaginary cigarettes and sandwiches and then “collapsed like marionettes with their strings cut…in a daze.”

Later, John told his suffering girlfriend that he was going to get the car so they could fly home. He slipped over the side and began to disappear and reappear among the swells when the trailing sharks attacked. Later that night, Mark declared, “I’m going to the 7-Eleven to get some cigarettes.” After going over the side, he moved hand over hand towards the bow before the sharks again attacked so violently that they spun the Zodiac completely around and lifted it out of the water. Kiley admits that at that moment, “I began to have dangerous thoughts: Why not just jump in and get it over with?”

On the fourth day, Meg barely clung to life and Kiley felt helpless to aid her suffering. During the night, Meg began speaking in tongues. Kiley recalls that her voice was calm “as she carried on a conversation with another world.” Kiley says, “Survival is a spiritual journey…and every survivor has a moment of transcendence and enlightenment…mine came with Meg’s death. It was one of those moments in life so raw and so real…I had made my leap of faith…and I realized I was not going to die.”

The following day, against all odds, the tiny Zodiac was spotted by a Russian freighter, which rescued the two survivors off Cape Hatteras.

The thought of having to abandon ship in storm conditions is not a pleasant one, and it's hard to simulate otherwise unimaginable conditions. Kiley's recollection of Trashman's sinking reinformces the importance of taking every imaginable precaution when it comes to emergency preparedness for survival. The ability to survive a disastrous event will be a test of a crew's procedural preparedness, physical readiness and mental/spiritual vigilance. Every crewmember should avoid complacency and take responsibility for continually reaffirming that their confidence in each of these important elements is in place.

Kiley has written two books recounting the sinking of Trashman. The first, Albatross, is a memoir of the ill-fated journey and the second book is a motivational work called No Victims, Only Survivors - Ten Lessons for Survival. To read a passage from her latest book, which reveals more details about her ordeal at sea, go to

Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 9:42 PM
I just read both articles and in my opinion she never should have stepped foot on that boat. Drinking all night before they set sail? That's crazy. Listen to your intuition.
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 10:26 PM
I read her book with great interest, I remember seeing Trashman in the Virgin Islands and admiring how lovely she was. I'm glad she managed to survive but for someone who had done a Whitbread you would think that she would have had more sense, not only during the trip, but getting on that boat in the first place. I guess we all do dumb stuff when we're young.
Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2009 10:31 PM
Joined: 12/12/2008
Posts: 22

It's just one more reason why crew shold not drink for at least 24 hours before departing on a trip. It's easy to think that you will have a lot of down time to catch up on lost sleep once you get on a watch schedule, but the sinking of the Trashman just goes to show that you never know when things will go wrong and how much your physical condition will matter. If the captain and mate had not been drinking, they likely would have survived. I know a lot of crew don't like to be told when they can and cannot drink, but this story should be required reading for anyone who goffs at a 24 hour policy.


Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2009 12:59 AM

I foolishly chose to ignore the classic signs of a delinquent captain and unreliable boat when I accepted a job some time back. The vessels condition was a function of poor refits executed in backwater shipyards and the use of unreliable people.

The boat was operated in an ad hoc fashion, doing the minimum with band aide repairs and never really got maintained  because crew only lasted for a few months.

Vital and non-vital systems regularly failed and all crew needed to go the extra mile when performing their duties,  voyages where never  incident free and the scope of problems often lead to serious delays and emergency repairs.  

Fatigue, low morale and high crew turnover were routine on this particular yacht.

This yacht was trapped in a cycle of decline.  Trying to keep things ship shape became a demoralizing process that sucked ever ounce of pride from people and the Boorish behavior of the  binge drinking Captain simply exacerbated everyone.

Crew  conversations inevitably centered on their individual frustrations, the inconsistent leadership and  ever diminishing enthusiasm to serve a Captain that breaks his own rules, while hypocritically expecting everyone to perform their duties and toe the line.

Each crewmembers  pride and drive held the boat together and  the  Captain capitalized on his crew’s hard work. Masking problems while delivering good service to the owners and guest is an exhausting process that eventually burns people out.

Crew had nowhere to go when it came to complaints about the Captain and overall management of the yacht because the upper echelon  seemed  hell bent of covering mistakes and delivering a tight budget.

The breakdown cycle sustained the ciaos, blew budgets apart and seemed to justify the need for the management company in the first place and the yes man captain just went along with it all because this was the biggest boat he had ever driven and was in the midst’s of milking it for as long as he could.

A cycle of breakdowns, crew change and near misses is not normal or safe.

Accidents reports often refer to a chain of events that culminate in travesty. Captains, owners and management companies that regularly opt for the quick fix, fudge paper work and persistently evade reality diminish safety standards, increase risk and expose people to potentially hazardous situations.

Reality has an uncanny way of revealing the truth and delivering just the right amount of KARMA  to those who fail understand the concepts of safety management, human resource management and asset management. A negative aspect of this type of karma  the collateral damage associated with it and the people that suffer along the way.

Safety and the environment are benchmarks which should be maintained, those amongst us who prefer to cut corners and fail to perform their duties place everyone else at risk.

I left the boat and know there will be a day in the future where I discover the final fate of this yacht and the belligerent Captain. Hopefully it will be good news, but it’s more likely to be bad because the near misses I witnessed scared me and prompted me to jump ship before it was too late.

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009 4:46 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 40

The "shoe-string" budget is a concern that keeps coming up as I have conversations about many of these marine accidents. There are a number of captains who are being asked to make-do with baling twine and bubble gum repairs and I hear a lot of concern that this may lead to a rash of incidents. With the job market being tight, people tend to let their standards slide a bit. However, when it comes to your own personal safety, crew need to assume acountability for their decisions. If proper repairs and maintenence are not being done, crew need to be aware of the danger. I think it is very healthy for the yachting community to express these concerns and have conversations which may educate less experienced yachties as to what is and is not safe practice. There is a very good example of this in the What Went Wrong in the Dockwalk of May 2009 where the crew of a yacht was caught in foul weather with a dead-ship. (Worth reading if you have not yet read it.)
Posted: Saturday, June 27, 2009 2:36 PM
Joined: 09/06/2009
Posts: 4

This industry never ceases to amaze me, incompetent inexperienced Captains and ridiculous owners trying to run on that shoestring budget.. if it was the owners plane or helicopter do you think he'd be cutting corners. It is a terrible story that with hindsight all the warning signs were flashing. If you are are embarking on a delivery or joining a new vessel whether you're captain or crew, look at the weather forecasts, the passage plans, the watch schedule the contingency plan if you're not happy with it question it with the owner or captain. On more than one occasion i have arrived at a vessel and within two minutes taken my bag walked off the and straight out of the marina.
Posted: Saturday, July 11, 2009 7:36 AM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1061

I've been a pilot almost as long as a captain (20 years) and can tell you that yes, the same people that run their boats on a shoestring, run their aircraft on one as well....
Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009 4:17 PM
To the person who wrote.. I foolishly chose to ignore the classic signs of a delinquent captain and unreliable boat when I accepted a job Sounds like the Nero, I too escaped alive....normally i won't name boats but i would warn people off this one.
Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009 8:41 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Trashman went down because of the incompetence of the crew. They were party boys. I left 12 hours ahead of Trashman with the yacht Secret Love. We caught Trashman on the first radio sched. they missed the second radio sched and they also missed the Storm warnings being pumped out on the SSB from Whiskey Oscar Mike. We tacked to starboard and beat into a hard SE gale in order to get east of the Gulfstream. Trashman held port tack and got caught inshore on the western wall of the stream when the wind went north storm force. Its wasnt the yacht that failed, force ten in the stream will crush your Feadship and blow the picture windows out just like Trashman.. Don't drink and drive when at sea.
Bob Parr
Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2011 6:52 PM
Joined: 09/10/2011
Posts: 1

One thing that was never mentioned in the sinking of Trashman was the National Wx Service was putting out erroneous information. At the time I ran a delivery business called "Offshore Enterprises" out of Newport, RI and, because I had a few boats out on delivery to the Islands, I was monitoring the wx forecasts and  realized for every "7" the NWS was giving a "3" I called the National Weather Service in Portsmouth, Va to inform them of the error but they bounced me around from one person to another until I ended up speaking to someone in the NWS Computer Room where I was informed that they had to read whatever the computer spit out. So a storm approaching the North Carolina Coast at 78 degrees West Longitude was being forecast as 38 degrees West Longitude - all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. The Captain of the Trashman SHOULD have caught this before leaving Moorehead City or wherever he left from but he obviously didn't.

Greg Hamby
Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 7:25 PM
Joined: 22/04/2012
Posts: 1

The true cause of this tragedy was setting out at the peak of hurricane season. As far as i can tell by research of the 1982 Atlantic season The Trashman ran into Hurricane Debby which formed in the second week of September near Haiti and reached major status on the 13th. Even then the weather predictions on these storms were pretty accurate. For this vessel to run into this storm only 3-4 days out means that no one involved was monitering the weather. This happens all too often off of NC during Hurricane season.
Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012 10:45 PM
Joined: 06/07/2012
Posts: 1

These replies are really informative. If the buoy was pumping out bad coordinates, it is reminiscent of the 1980 Grand Banks storm, when the buoy was broken (incredibly, the NWS didn't tell anyone); thus, the fleet got caught in near 100-foot waves. A LOT went wrong on this trip, a compounding of events, the Coast Guard sent out a plane to ID their position and never followed up after getting a visual ID! And, the short wave periods off Hatteras during storms causes breaking waves, along with shallow shoals. That is way it is called the Graveyard of thr Atlantic.
 Average 4 out of 5