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2013-12-29 at 17:32

'Frightening' ordeal

By Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com
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Peter Powell owes his survival to his decision to have some company on one of his final voyages.

Powell, a retired Thunder Bay dentist, had been sailing the seas of the world solo for more than four years when he decided to have a friend accompany him on one last voyage around the tip of South America.

That decision, and his friend Paul Mahony, saved his life on Dec. 4 when their 42-foot sailboat got hit by a series of waves that crashed into the side and rolled the vessel 300 kilometres off the coast of Argentina.

Powell was having a shower at the time and was knocked unconscious before being hauled to safety by Mahony.

“I was just tired of sailing alone but I had the one last challenge and I realized it was going to be difficult,” Powell said. “Luckily he was an experienced sailor and he kept a level head.”

The harrowing ordeal was not over though, as their boat sank while they were awaiting a rescue helicopter.

“We had to take to the ocean just with lifejackets on and a strobe light in my hand so they could locate us,” Powell said.

“After about 15 minutes in the water the helicopter arrived and located us with the search lights and dropped a little raft for us to hold on, and then dropped a rescue swimmer on a cable.”

The swimmer was able to retrieve both Mahony and Powell out of the water, which Powell estimated was about 9 degrees. They received first aid care for the next 24 hours, with both suffering from hypothermia and Powell with a laceration to his head.

Neither suffered long-term injuries as a result of their ordeal, according to Powell.

The trip around Cape Horn has been historically considered one of the most treacherous stretches of ocean in the world. The area is known for their notorious williwaw winds that can strike without warning.

Powell had waited in the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires for nearly six months waiting for weather conditions to improve before heading out.

Nevertheless, the two became caught in a gale that had three days of steady winds as the intensity of the waves grew.

With the event still fresh in his memory, he has been dealing with some elements of post-traumatic stress.

Having to tell loved ones that he went through such a perilous ordeal and his life was in danger was difficult.

“It was quite emotional for me to talk to my friends and family, but that goes away gradually and it was a normal reaction,” Powell said.

“I have a difficulty thinking about it because the whole thing was quite frightening but it’s therapeutic to talk about it with my friends and they were all interested in what happened. It takes time to get over these things and I’m gradually getting there.”

Powell had experience sailing in the past, as he had toured the entire Pacific Ocean in 1979.

He thought it would be a good way to embark on his retirement after working for nearly 30 years in the city.

“It seemed like an interesting adventure, but I don’t like sailing that much because it’s usually awful. Two days out of 15 might be good,” he said.

“I like visiting different lands, different cultures and different sailors. That was the rewarding part.”

Powell has amassed a collection of stories from various experiences during his time at sea. One of his favourites is the time he was temporarily detained by Peruvian authorities and chained to their coast guard boat for four days due to a declaration miscue.

He added that some of his favourite experiences came in the south Pacific, and listed Malaysia and Thailand as two of his favourite locations.

While he is not sure of what his future will hold, he does plan on doing some paragliding in Chile and returning to the Philippines, he does know the sailing will not be part of those plans.

“I’ve had enough and I’m going to keep my feet on dry land from now on,” Powell said with a laugh.

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