Steve Dashew has sailed the world and now pushes the envelope, too, in his 80-foot fast pilot boat, Wind Horse. He made a passage from Tonga to Fiji on Intermezzo, a 50-foot Bill Tripp yawl, in 1977—before GPS. “Navigation is tricky,” Dashew says. “There are lots of reefs and currents and we left with a full moon for good visibility. Of course, it got overcast so we didn’t get a single round of celestial observation. So, we’re all on dead reckoning and we’re about halfway through the passage, about 450 miles if I recall, and the moon was trying to poke through. I had a sextant sitting next to me in the cockpit, just in case. I got what I thought was the bottom of the moon, but there was a big sea running, blowing about 30 or 35 knots, waves, and we were running wing-and-wing. And you’re never really sure in those conditions, and it’s hard to see the horizon. The sight that I got worked out put us about 60 or 70 miles north of where we thought we were. But you can easily be off [by] that much.” Unable to confirm the location, Dashew took the information at face value.
“About 15 or 20 minutes later we came up on a wave and I saw a white line ahead of me—It’s breakers. No it can’t be,” Dashew says. “We came up again on the next wave and saw that there were breakers ahead of us for sure.”
Dashew sprang into action. “We were wing-and-wing and so the main had a preventer to the bow in back of the cockpit and the spinnaker pole, which the jib was on, also had a preventer coming back to the cockpit,” Dashew says. “Instinctively, I cut both preventers and gybed the boat...and drove the boat into the wind and stopped her. We had a big jib on the pole and we had to get that put away and get the mess cleaned up, and so we set a heavy staysail, and double-reefed the main. We know we’re in some reef area, but we don’t know where—you know, if you sailed in an entrance you can’t move. So we just short-tacked for about three hours—tack, five minutes on the next tack, just holding position. The sun comes up and we looked behind us. We had sailed into something called a horseshoe reef.”
The Lesson: “If I hadn’t been on deck, we would have lost the boat, and might have lost our lives: There was a big sea running,” says Dashew. “So after that, whenever we were within 100 miles of anything that could bite the boat we had someone on deck all the time.”