“We’re crashing, we’re crashing ...turn, turn...” was the last thing Stig Hvinden heard before the collision. Mosquito’s three metre-long keel and proportionately small rudder meant that an unstoppable momentum was carrying her on towards the finish, some 200 metres away. He had no time to steer her away from danger – it was like trying to swerve in a lorry travelling at full pelt.
Things had been perfect up to that point. Mosquito had only just completed a major overhaul, including replacing ‘everything’ below the waterline, and the decision to compete in this huge and historic regatta had been arrived at with great caution. Stig, her proud owner, was “reluctant” to risk her, but she had been star of the show at Norway’s centennial Europeweek in 1914, and history was there to be repeated, at the bi-centenary.
Mosquito is an iconic 6-Metre yacht with a perfect Johan Anker pedigree. She was famous for having swept the board in her new-fangled bermudan rig in 1914, beating what was described then as a “swarm of sixes”: now, a full century later, she was trialling so sweetly that the decision was made to risk her – but what a shock was to follow.
When Stig first bought Mosquito he felt there was something both holding her back, and making her unsteady in strong winds.The guess was that she had been given a post-WW2 replacement keel after losing hers, as so many had done, with cheaper metal mixed into the lead; this lighter keel weighed 1,102 kg where Stig’s new version is 2320 kg, which says it all. After it was fitted, a reinvigorated and re-rigged Mosquito was free and sailing like a bird – until that dreadful moment off Sandefjord.
In the seconds after the crash, Stig found himself strangely calm. His mind raced, making practical assessments. Three and a half feet of the bow were now smashed-up fragments and water was gushing into the structure. His next reaction was that Mosquito couldn’t survive and he remembers a hit of sadness, telling me later with fine understatement: “it was unfortunate because I liked her so much.” Then his mind turned to reckoning how deep the fjord was, and if they would be able to recover her once she had sunk.
After the pause everyone on board sprang to instinctive action, quickly hauling down the sails to prevent Mosquito capsizing. Stig had installed the best heavyduty bilge pump on board – not only that, he had supplied three sets of batteries, as well as an additional powerful hand pump. A lifetime’s experience of racing on snow and sea had taught him to be prepared for anything, belt and braces, and surely this preparation saved her. It was the work of a minute to set the pumps away to have 70 litres a minute gushing back out of the hull – and when his boat didn’t sink, Stig realised that she might just survive this. He says he almost relaxed. Never for one second did he think of his own safety.
Meantime, I was in the press boat catching picture after picture with my new camera. It was my first full day as a yachting journalist and the settings were all on automatic (because I had no idea which buttons did what!). I remember worrying I was the worst kind of paparazza with this lovely boat in trouble, and me clicking away, but Stig reassured me later that I was recording, not intruding. As I snapped I could see someone pulling the spinnaker into position to seal off the dark gaping hole in the bow, with another crew member somehow balancing on the half boat. That was Stig. Around us were great flights of sails as the magnificent regatta continued relentlessly. The press boat circled round for what seemed like an eternity but eventually a rubber buoy from the rescue boat was used to cover the bow, after which broken Mosquito was towed slowly towards Sandefjord, leaving large splinters floating to mark the disaster spot.
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