S/V Satori - Perfect Storm The whole story

What follows is the true account of S/V SATORI and crew. The original web site was put together by Ray Leonard's son Kent but is no longer available.

This page holds several documents related to the Sailing Vessel Satori's passage through the Halloween storm of 1991 and Sebastian Junger's book "The Perfect Storm".


On May 6, 2000 Ray sold Satori to a new owner. She's now berthed in Corpus Christi Texas.

Bud Taplin was an adviser when the move was shot here are his observations. 

THE MOVIE: Warner Brothers has released a movie of the same name based on the book. The movie will include a helicopter rescuing people from a private sailboat. Fortunately, the names of the sailboat and the people have been changed. Warner Brothers is making no representation that their movie is a depiction of the evacuation of the Satori during the October 1991 storm.

To see the Coast Guard video: Satori - Perfect Storm - CG rescue


1. Ray Leonard
2. s/v Satori
3. October 1991
4. Lying Ahull
5. Coast Guard
6. Evacuation
7. Restoration
8. Conclusion

Ray Leonard
In 1965, at the age of thirty eight, Ray Leonard celebrated the completion of his doctoral examination by buying his first sailboat, a seventeen foot O'Day. He purchased his second sailboat, a twenty four foot Dutch built sloop in 1969.
In 1972 Ray sold that sloop and in 1974 bought Satori, a new Westsail 32. In the years that followed became a Coast Guard certified captain, earning his 100-Ton Masters license in 1988. He made several boat deliveries along the United States East Coast, usually with a volunteer crew. His first long distance trip was a delivery from Moorhead City North Carolina to St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands. In 1983 he was the navigator in a sailing race from Annapolis to Bermuda. They made the 800 mile trip in five days. The next year he delivered a new 39 foot C & C from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Red Hook, St. Thomas.

In 1985 Ray retired from his job as Research Ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service. He continues to work various jobs: as interim president of a college, helping design a series of kayak trails along the Maine coast, as a deck hand on a research vessel, and consulting for environmental groups. In 1986 Ray moved permanently aboard Satori. Over the next five years, Ray made an annual voyage between the Caribbean and Maine while continuing to deliver other sailboats. By the fall of 1991 he had sailed 18,000 miles.

s/v Satori
The Westsail 32 is a Colin Archer designed double ended cutter. This style of vessel was originally used to bring a harbor pilot out to meet a large cargo schooner during the late 1800's. The harbor pilot and one crew member would set out to a rendezvous point where they would wait until the schooner appeared. The crew member would drop off the pilot and sail the cutter back to port by himself.

She is a short masted, heavy displacement rig. She weighs 11 tons and is designed for heavy seas. Eleven stays keep the forty foot mast secure. When the boat was built Ray requested heavy rigging to be certain that Satori could handle more severe storms. She is set up for long ocean voyages with a Perkins engine, a 70 gallon fuel tank and 100 gallon fresh water capacity. In addition to working sails there is a storm trysail and a storm jib. There are three manual bilge pumps, one electric bilge pump, three large gel batteries, two survival suits and an emergency life raft. The navigation and communication equipment includes a GPS (Global Positioning System), a SatNav (Satellite Navigation), two VHF (Very High Frequency) radios, a SSB (Single Side Band) radio, and three EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons).

Her most important safety features are the thick fiberglass hull, thick decks, coach top, and small strong portholes. She is equipped for single handed sailing, with a wind vane for automatic steering under sail and an autopilot for automatic steering under power. Similarly built ocean cruising sailboats have survived rolling 360 degrees, pitch poling (being flipped lengthwise), or losing their masts. Fortunately, Satori has never seen such difficult conditions.
Every five years Ray overhauls Satori: he pulls the engine, replaces the lines, paints the deck and hull, has the sails refurbished at a sailmaker's in Rockland, Maine, and tests all safety equipment. The overhaul in the summer of 1991 took a month and cost five thousand dollars.

October 1991
In the summer of 1991 Ray was working at the Island Institute with Karen Stimpson and Susan Bylander. They were working on a recreational canoe and kayak route on the Maine coast. Karen and Susan were commercial artists using their skills to market the Institute and recruit volunteers. Over the course of the summer Ray had several lunches with them and they discussed Ray's sailing experiences.

In October he sailed Satori down to Portsmouth and provisioned her for the annual trip south. Crew was never an issue. Ray always planned to make the voyage alone, but should an old friend or a new acquaintance want to hitch a ride and experience off shore sailing, they were welcome to come. Crew congeniality and a positive attitude were more important than sailing experience.

Karen and Susan wanted to make the passage as far as Bermuda. They were to meet Ray in Portsmouth with their gear and be ready to set sail. Both women portrayed themselves as experienced sailors. Susan had said she had made a trip to the Azores and Karen said that she had served as crew aboard tankers; both of them were excited about the trip.

While moored at the Great Bay Yacht Club, Ray met up with his friends, Bob and Peg Fish. They had been living aboard the Stafka III, a Tayana 37, for several years. They were also going to Bermuda so Ray, Bob, and Peg decided to travel together.

At the Great Bay Yacht Club Ray made Satori ready for the trip. He brought on board enough dry goods and canned food for six months, filled the 100 gallon fresh water tanks and laid on 70 gallons of diesel fuel. Karen and Susan had planned to arrive on the 25th, but were a day late. Typically, Ray would spend a day briefing his crew about the boat, however, because of their delayed arrival and Ray and Bob's desire to get started while the forecast was good, they set sail at 5:15 P.M. on the 26th, immediately after Karen and Susan arrived. The tide was favorable and the two boats cleared the breakwater before dark.

The weather forecast predicted 15 to 20 knot winds out of the north-northeast, ideal winds for the passage to Bermuda. The first night the wind was light; they set one sail and continued under power. Ray always runs under power the first day to change the batteries and to checkout his radios, pumps, autopilot, and other electrical equipment. The newly rigged Satori was in top running condition when they left the harbor.

At sunrise Ray was on shift and felt the breezes picking up. He turned the engine off, set the mainsail, and oriented the windvane for steering. They were 50 miles off Portsmouth; the winds were 20 knots and building. The weather forecast from NOAH predicted a northeaster and accompanying winds of approximately 30 knots. This meant that the passage would be fast and a little bumpy with six to eight foot seas. By afternoon the winds had increased to the predicted 30 knots. In continued conversations via VHF radio Ray learned that the Stafka III, ten miles ahead of Satori, was considering taking down sails to bare poles. Weather reports on the single side band radio indicated that there was a hurricane in the Carribbean heading toward Bermuda. With this knowledge Ray did not want to continue on to Bermuda and expressed his concerns to Bob on the Stafka III. Bob reported back that he did not think the hurricane was going to interfere with his passage and that he was going to keep on course to Bermuda. This was the last communication between the Satori and the Stafka III during the storm.

Lying Ahull
Not knowing what the two weather systems were going to do, Ray decided to wait to determine his next course of action. He explained his decision to the crew, took down all sail, double lashed the sails and the deck gear, battened down the hatches, closed the through hulls, and lashed the helm. The boat was now lying ahull, ready to ride out the storm. The two women remained below as the seas built to twelve feet. They continued to get weather forecasts every six hours on the SSB radio.

Lying ahull is a well-established technique for sailing in heavy weather offshore. It involves taking down all sail, lashing the helm, and staying secure below. The boat will lie beam to the waves and will roll. If the amounts of windage and drag (from the keel) are right, the boat will slip sideways through the water, giving way before the waves. Too much keel and the boat will get caught in the waves and tend toward knockdowns. Too little keel or too much windage and she will move too quickly across the surface. It's also important to balance the forces for and aft lest the vessel get driven stern first, as that can damage the rudder. This technique is explained in many sailing books, including Adlard Coles' "Heavy Weather Sailing" 9th edition 1992 and Michael Badham and Robby Robinson's "Sailor's Secrets" 1st edition 1997. Ray had used this technique with Satori several times and knew how she would behave. In October of 1987 Satori came within seventy miles of the eye of a hurricane and lay ahull in seventy mile per hour winds. Twelve hours later, the winds subsided and he was able to sail into Bermuda.

Ray decided not to try to make Nantucket, as this would have been dangerous. It would require getting into the harbor, avoiding other boats, and anchoring in heavy weather. During the travel to Nantucket, the crew would be on deck and risking injury from a boarding wave. There was little or no risk in staying where they were and lying ahull.
Heading into evening at the end of the first day the forecast indicated that the hurricane was still making its way north toward Bermuda and the northeaster was holding fast. Satori was between two weather patterns waiting for them to pass. Like any good boat, Satori will have a predictable, rhythmic rolling motion in most storms Ð she finds a dynamic balance in the wind and waves. Because this weather was from two systems, the waves were confused. In those confused seas Satori would roll unpredictably. This was less comfortable, but not dangerous.

While everyone was below lashed into their bunks, a wave came onto the starboard side and rolled the boat over. Satori was on her side for about thirty seconds before the weight of the keel righted the boat. The quick righting motion tossed many things about the cabin Ð including canned goods and books. Approximately five gallons of seawater squirted into the cabin through the gap between the hatch boards and the main hatch cover. The electric bilge pump automatically pumped that water out of the hull.

This knockdown followed twelve hours of rough seas, and the crew began to panic. Both women were crying and saying that they were bound to die. Ray put on his safety harness, went above deck, clipped into a pad eye and reviewed the damage. The force of the water had bent the dodger, the cover for the cockpit. Ray unfastened it and stored it below. He came below, re-latched the hatch, and reassured the crew. The cabin was reorganized and cleaned up, and crew and captain settled back into their berths.

Secure in his berth with the boat ahull, Ray felt comfortable that the vessel would ride out the storm. Three times she had been at sea on the edge of a hurricane or tropical depression. In the past, he was able to sail to avoid the main thrust of the storm. The biggest danger was the possibility of being hit by unsecured equipment below. All the bunks had canvas side cloths to keep the occupant from being thrown out of bed and to protect him or her from flying debris. The boat was designed to address every nuance of a formidable storm.

A few hours after the knock down, Ray decided to try to lift the crew's morale. He went back on deck, safety harness securely fastened, and set a storm jib (about forty square feet of sail). He put the storm jib on the staysail stay so that he would not have to travel far forward on deck. This also moved the center of windage to the center of the boat and minimized the strain on the rigging if there were another knock down. While setting the storm jib was "doing something" and might help calm the crew, it didn't improve the bumpiness of the ride below.

When he went below he found the crew still in a state of panic. They were standing in the cabin rather than secure in their bunks where they would be much safer and where he had asked them to remain. The confused seas were still rocking Satori side to side. She was having a hard time finding a comfortable position. He was unable to convince the crew that this motion was uncomfortable but not dangerous.

Coast Guard
Satori was riding out the seas when a second knockdown occurred. While lying ahull in heavy weather a knockdown is always a possibility but not a severe threat. The boat went over approximately ninety degrees and again righted herself. During this knockdown the life raft was torn from its deck mount. Hitting the water the raft -- as designed -- inflated immediately and its strobe light began flashing. Ray went up on deck, checked that there was no damage to the mast or any of the radar equipment on the mast. The inflated raft whipping around at the end of its tether would have been unsafe, so he cut it loose. When he returned below, Ray and the crew stowed the few items that had come loose again.

This second knockdown put the crew into a heightened state of panic. They began to insist that they call the Coast Guard for a rescue. Karen believed that the boat was going to break up any minute. The captain explained that there was no need for a rescue and that Satori had been through this before and would ride out this storm. At this point, Susan and Karen were not listening and kept insisting that they wanted to call. Ray agreed to let them call, but only to give their position and status and to have the Coast Guard call their parents to relay word that they were all right. A Coast Guard vessel received this call and recorded it at 6:18PM: "Comms [communications] with S/V [sailing vessel] Satori in posit [position] 29-49N 069-52W 3 POB [people on board] É on course 260¡ T not requesting CG [Coast Guard] assist just what [sic] someone to know their status"

 Karen continued calling and contacted the freighter Gold Bond Conveyor. The message to the freighter was in a tone of panic. Poor reception led to miscommunication. The freighter understood the message to be a Mayday call, when in fact Karen was only supposed to convey the boat's position. Because she was facing away from him and because of the noise below, Ray is uncertain exactly what Karen said. The unauthorized Mayday was then relayed to the Coast Guard and appears in their logs at 11:15PM. Within hours a Coast Guard Falcon jet flew overhead and called the Satori on the short range VHF radio.

Ray transmitted back that the boat was O.K. but the crew wanted to get off. The Falcon stayed in the area and maintained radio contact. Sometime around 5AM a frightened crew member relayed more information to the Falcon. According to the Coast Guard records, "S/V [sailing vessel] Satori also reported losing fuel tank and power to engine" and "In the early morning hours, S/V Satori began to take on water". In fact Satori was not taking on water (a few gallons had come in on the last knockdown, but that was 12 hours earlier), she had never lost fuel or power to the engine. Satori had over half her original fuel, enough to run the engine for 40 hours. Ray does not know who made the 5 AM transmissions. These miscommunications and the frightened voices of the crew probably caused the Coast Guard to decide that everyone must be evacuated.

Within a couple of hours a helicopter flew over and raised them on the radio indicating that the Tamaroa, a Coast vessel, was going to try and contact them on the VHF. When the Tamaroa arrived and called the Satori Ray again reported that the boat was O.K., that he wanted to stay, but that the crew wanted to get off. The Captain of Tamaroa radioed back and told Ray that he had specific orders from Headquarters in Boston to remove everyone from the boat. Ray knew that if he refused the order to abandon ship he could loose his captain's license and Satori's Coast Guard documentation. His boat could then be prohibited from entering American ports.

The seas were still confused, but not severe. From the Coast Guard incident reports: "Seas 30 Ft., Winds 015/40 [knots] with gusts to 55 kts. [knots]". There were no 50 or 60 foot waves during the evacuation. Satori was rolling in an irregular way, but experienced no knockdowns on Wednesday. Ray's primary concern was the crew's safety.
The Tamaroa launched Tam1, a 21 foot inflatable boat. The inflatable came along side Satori and passed over three immersion suits. When they approached Satori the second time from behind Ray yelled to them not to approach from the stern. He was concerned that the steering vane, which extended a couple of feet aft of the deck, would puncture the inflatable in the rough seas. The inflatable crew did not heed his warning and sustained a puncture. Because of the punctured pontoon, the inflatable could not remove the crew from Satori.

Having failed to remove Satori's captain and crew by sea, the Coast Guard now looked to the skies. The helicopter had been standing by and called Ray to discuss how to remove them from the deck. Ray was still not convinced that he was going to desert his vessel, but he was going to cooperate in removing his crew. The first plan suggested was to try to lower down a harness and lift them directly off the deck. Ray expressed his concern that this could be dangerous since they could be struck by the mast or rigging as they were being hoisted above. The chopper crew agreed. The only alternative left was to pluck the crew out of the water. This would entail jumping overboard to meet a Coast Guard swimmer who would be lowered down with a basket.

Ray decided to obey the Coast Guard's order and abandon his vessel. He unhooked his safety harness, headed below and packed his passport, money, camera, and the valuables he could grab into a waterproof orange bag which he tied to the front of his lifejacket. Knowing that he was turning over all responsibility to the Coast Guard, Ray opened the liquor locker and toasted a farewell to Satori, tucked his prized bottle of Gossling's Bermuda rum into his foul weather jumper, and then proceeded back on deck. He noted Satori's position and course so he would know where to search for her.

Back on deck Ray unharnessed the crew, placed life jackets on them and himself and arranged everyone on the outer rail of the leeward side. Ray directed Karen and Susan to jump backwards into the water. As Ray jumped into the water the waterproof orange bag caught in the rigging, was torn off his life jacket, and landed on deck. Satori's four foot freeboard and the waves made it impossible to get back on deck. The bag would apparently be washed overboard with the next boarding wave. In the water he directed the rescue swimmer to take Susan first, then Karen, and finally, himself for hoisting to the chopper.

Once on the chopper the swimmer realized that there was one more task to be accomplished. The crew of Tam1 had not made it back to the Tamaroa because of the punctured pontoon and the rough seas. The swimmer descended back into the water and retrieved the three men. Ray was tired after three days of heavy weather and the water rescue; he slept during the helicopter ride to Cape Cod Ray. Just before their arrival, one of the Coast Guardsmen told Ray that there were news reporters waiting. He was angry with the Coast Guard for ordering him off his boat and did not want to speak with the press.

Ray and a crew member went out the door away from the press and walked into the Coast Guard station. The Coast Guard splinted his broken fingers, and provided a shower, a dry set of coveralls to wear, and a hot meal. He was debriefed for an hour by various members of the helicopter crew where they exchanged ideas that could be useful in future rescue missions. Ray's son Kent drove down from Boston, picked him up, and put him up for the night.

Early the next morning Ray wanted to go and retrieve his boat. He knew she was floating at sea and was fairly certain about the coordinates where he could locate her. Before leaving the boat, Ray had lashed the helm, and made certain that the storm jib was sheeted in tight. He had been tracking their course and could easily calculate Satori's position. Before setting out to recover his vessel he had to replace his glasses and make arrangements to replace his credit cards and other documents.

As he was about to drive to the New Jersey coast in Kent's car, the Coast Guard called to tell him that a Navy vessel had spotted Satori off of Ocean City New Jersey. Ray asked the Coast Guard if they could go out and tow his boat back to harbor. Their reply was that they were not authorized to retrieve private vessels and offered him the phone number for Sea Tow, a commercial towing service. Ray phoned Sea Tow, gave them the position where she had been spotted, and hired them to transport Satori back to port while he drove to New Jersey. He expected to arrive at about the same time as Satori was towed in; unfortunately they had not found Satori. Now that her position was known, anyone who found her could claim her (a ship abandoned at sea is the property of whoever locates her). Time was important.

At first light on the Sunday 3rd of November Ray hired a plane and flew to the area where he thought she was located. It took about five hours searching from the air before he spotted her. He then hurried back to the Sea Tow office to set out for the retrieval process. Satori was still approximately fifty miles out at sea and by the time he reached the area where she was seen the boat again eluded him. So he returned at dark after being bounced around on six foot seas on Sea Tow's twenty-four foot fiberglass motorboat, Shamrock. The next day he set out for yet another small coastal airport and hired another plane. They flew all day and again could not locate the boat. On Tuesday he drove on to the next airport down the coast and hired a plane to continue the search. This day they were lucky and located her once again. Once more he hired a fast boat and went back out and couldn't find her. Part of the difficulty with locating Satori was that the planes Ray hired did not have sophisticated navigational equipment. He could only estimate her location by using a dead reckoning. On Wednesday he hired a special ocean surface search aircraft equipped with down seeking radar, and a GPS. The plane was based out of Cape Cod and was used to spot schools of whales. While the specially equipped plane searched for Satori 25 miles off shore, another smaller plane Ray had hired was combing the nearby beaches. The smaller plane spotted her on the beach at Maryland's Assateaque State Park. At the same time State Park rangers also found Satori. The orange waterproof bag of personal belongings, which had been torn off in the evacuation, was still on the deck.

The first attempt to get Satori off the beach was carried out by Sea Tow. Their boat proved too small to move the eleven ton Westsail. Ray hired a dragger, a sixty foot fishing vessel, to pull her off. This time they dislodged her from the sand and she sprung back into the water floating comfortably. While the boat had remained on shore the Park Rangers guarded the vessel and were extremely helpful by digging a channel to the sea, which made getting her off the beach much easier.

The dragger captain towed Satori back into port in Ocean City, Maryland. Ray had not seen or heard from his crew since he left them at the Coast Guard station on Cape Cod. He got on the phone and called his friend Rick Dearborn to help him clean up the boat and sail her to Moorehead City, North Carolina, whence he skippered her solo to Ft. Pierce, Florida. The total cost of retrieval was $10,000. All the damage that Satori had endured was from the beaching. There was no damaged sustained in the storm after the evacuation.

Bob and Peg Fish arrived in Ocean City Maryland a few days after the storm Stafka III came through with no problems. Ray continues to live aboard and sail Satori. Since October of 1991, he has sailed over 6000 miles, found himself in similar sized seas and lay ahull at three times. He has heard from Karen twice. Once when he took Karen out to lunch and once when he ran into her at an Island Institute meeting. Each time she was very congenial and chatted about their adventure. He has never heard from Susan.

If there's something to be learned from this experience, it is appreciation for the help you get when you need it most. Ray would like to thank the Rangers at Assateaque State Park, Sea Tow, his son Kent, Rick Dearborn, and all the friends who offered support during Satori's recovery.

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