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Swimming off Cape Horn

Beryl looked back to see a great wall of water towering above her, so high and steep that she knew Tzu Hang could not ride over it. The front of the wave cascaded down like a waterfall. The boat was tracking straight down the wave. There was nothing she could do. She had a brief sensation of falling, and the next moment she was in the water. She remembered nothing of how she got there. Her shoulder and her lifeline were both broken. Tzu Hang was not visible. Beryl’s first thought was, ‘Oh, God, they’ve left me!’ Then she spotted the boat, 30 yards away, dismasted, and low in the water. Onboard, Miles had heard the roar and felt the boat lurch as the wave struck, dashing him into the side of his bunk. That was followed by a tearing, cracking sound, as if Tzu Hang was being torn apart. He felt like he was being buried in debris as he struggled to get out, fearing that he would not see Beryl alive again. As he entered the galley, he saw John by the stove. John didn’t remember how he got there, just that he was struggling against a tremendous force of water in the darkness. The doghouse was gone, sheared off flush and leaving them in an open boat.

As Miles reached the deck he spotted Beryl, 30 yards off the port quarter. She looked unafraid, was swimming toward them, and was smiling. ‘I’m all right, I’m all right,’ she shouted, but her words were taken by the wind. The mizzen mast was in pieces, floating between Beryl and the ship, still attached by its rigging. When Beryl got there, she pulled herself to the boat by the shrouds, her head bleeding. Miles tried to pull her aboard, but her water-soaked clothing made her too heavy, even with the boat’s lower freeboard. John knelt beside Miles, saying ‘This is it, you know, Miles.’ He saw another wave coming and said ‘Look out. This is really it!’ Beryl called ‘Let go! Let go!’ but Miles wouldn’t let go. The next moment, John caught Beryl by the arm, and they hauled her aboard. The boat was filled with so much water that Miles was sure Tzu Hang would soon go down. He had no idea how they could save her. John had also given in to despair. At that point Beryl said, ‘I know where the buckets are. I’ll go and get them.’ This true story is condensed from Miles Smeeton’s account in Once is Enough. It reminds us of the strength that women can possess and should inspire us all to keep going and do what needs to be done when the time comes.

I was unable to locate licensable photos of the Smeetons or John Guzwell. The Smeetons have both passed away. As far as I can discover, Guzzwell is still alive. The Smeetons were early world cruisers who began their adventures following World War II. You can read more about Beryl and Miles Smeeton, and see photos of them, here.


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