YouTube Sailors Survive, Salvage Catamaran That Snapped in Half Amid StormJanuary 3, 2020, 5:00 PM HST (Updated January 6, 2020, 1:37 PM)
The wind screamed, and a towering swell heaved with a treacherous, inevitable rhythm that conjured wall after wall of ocean, each stretching more than 25-feet high into a dark, angry sky.
It was 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2019. James Evenson and Kimmi Jensen were situated roughly 50 miles southwest of the nearest Big Island harbor, bobbing up and down in the Zingaro — a plywood catamaran constructed 34 years prior and intended for far friendlier waters.
Waves and wind colluded against the couple, who’d spent the previous three years of their lives navigating the vessel from port to port across the world and documenting their adventures by way of a YouTube channel.
The weather had torn a vital limb from the Zingaro, completely separating the starboard pontoon from the rest of the boat and beginning the rapid deterioration of its already precarious integrity.
“We got hit with a very large wave that picked us up and slammed us down so hard it broke our main crossbeam,” Evenson recalled.
The hull-deck joint on the inside failed, which separated the hull from the vessel, he continued.
“This was the worst thing, because now the hull was separated from the boat, rocking outward and potentially scooping up thousands of gallons of water,” Evenson explained. “When we realized how bad the damage was, we knew we didn’t have much time before it started taking on water.”
The couple realized they had only one chance to save the boat, and one choice to make to potentially save both their lives.
Evenson peered over the edge of the catamaran into the pitch-black depths of the roaring, foaming ocean — then jumped in.
The Dyneema Guy
Living port to port and making the lion’s share of their income as YouTubers, Evenson and Jensen understood early on they needed a hook to set them apart from the millions of other options at the fingertips of internet viewers.
One idea came in the form of dyneema, which Evenson described as a synthetic fiber stronger than steel when cut to the same diameter. While widely utilized in towing operations, using dyneema for sailboat rigging is still a relatively novel concept. Through instructional videos and the like, Evenson said he became the so-called “dyneema guy” on YouTube.
It was dyneema the couple turned to in their early-morning hours of need in the middle of the Pacific.
“We had this extra stuff, and we used it to tie the boat together,” Evenson said. “It probably saved our lives.”
In the water
The couple were on the last leg of a roughly 2,500-mile trip from Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands when the Zingaro gave out.
They’d dealt with “gnarly” weather for more than a week, Jensen explained, as gale force winds of 30 to 35 knots were the norm. When the boat snapped in half just hours from their destination, the concern wasn’t only for their lives, but was also for their livelihoods.
“We stayed calm and did everything in our power to save the boat,” Jensen said. “(The Zingaro) is our home. It’s our business. This is our life, basically.”
Volatile and dangerous sum up best the conditions Evenson faced when he hopped in the water attempting to save the vessel from the depths. He had no underwater light and no mask. He was flying blind.
The dyneema lines needed to be wound around the boat to keep it afloat, but the Zingaro itself posed almost as great of a threat to Evenson and his task as did the water.
“There was seven tons of boat coming up and down on me, trying to suck me under,” he said. “When the boat came up from under water, it caused suction. … Then, the wave would crest and the boat would slam back down in the same spot.”
With the guidance of Jensen, who remained aboard the vessel, and Evenson’s efforts from the water, the couple was able to tie the boat together after about 45 minutes of tiring, treacherous work. An hour and a half later, however, the line snapped and required Evenson to take his second dip of the day.
After the third time retying the line, the two contacted the Coast Guard, which dispatched a cutter at around 4:45 a.m. Jensen said she and Evenson remained confident they could salvage the boat and declined an offer of helicopter rescue.
The choice, while risky, was made in part because of the monetary value of the electronics and un-aired footage aboard. The catamaran was equipped with a dingy in case conditions went even further south and the two became forced to abandon ship.
The Zingaro held together until the cutter arrived roughly 12 hours later. The Coast Guard provided fuel and an escort into Honokohau Harbor.
“We were able to limp into the harbor on our own power with one motor,” Jensen said. “The boat was ready to go at any given moment. It’s a miracle we’re back.”
Into the Sunset
Evenson and Jensen have no plans to abandon their lives at sea, but after 34 years, the Zingaro has seen the last of its long voyages.
The two plan to repair the catamaran and sell it as a cruiser between the Hawaiian Islands. In the meantime, they’ll spend the next few months in Hawai‘i looking for a larger and stronger vessel capable of sailing the colder seas of Alaska, Japan and the like.
The couple is considering starting a Kickstarter account to help raise the roughly $75,000 they guess they’ll need to complete the purchase of a new boat. Those who are interested in learning more about the their journey or making a financial contribution can do so online.
Despite the damage to the Zingaro, and the hitch that has caused in the couple’s plans, Evenson and Jensen consider themselves fortunate.
“We’re lucky this boat broke here,” Evenson said. “Had it broke in cold water, we could have been killed. (The same thing) if it had broken thousands of miles from the nearest (port).”