BRUCE Arms admits there were moments during his record-breaking sail around Australia that he thought he might not survive.
“This is it,” he thought as he clung to the winch of his catamaran as it surfed down 12-metre seas in 50-knot winds off the coast of Western Australia.
He was alone and a long way from help – a traumatic experience he says is burned into his memory.
“It was the worst experience I have ever had on the ocean,” he said.
The 50-year-old was just past the half-way mark on his quest to become the first person in the world to circumnavigate the country solo and unassisted in a multihull vessel when a severe low hit south-west of Cape Leeuwin.
He had been trying to get some much-needed sleep when he woke to the sound of the boat's sea brake snapping.
“I was busy trying to make an emergency one out of materials I had on board to slow me down, but the rope I was using got caught in the wind and took off,” he said.
“It was a small, hard rope so I couldn't hold onto it but it wrapped around my ankle and spun me 180 degrees around the back of the boat.
“I was hanging onto the winch but the boat was moving so fast I didn't want to release my grip on one hand to try to pry the rope free and had to wait until the boat slowed down off the back of the waves before I could try anything.
“It was very lucky I didn't get ripped out of the back of the boat and dragged by my harness.”
The incident left Mr Arms with a deep groove around his ankle, 6mm deep and 25-30mm long. He made the most of technology on board to send images to a Coast-based doctor, who diagnosed the best method of treatment for the injury.
“I didn't want to take anything that would make me drowsy, so I had to pop a few Panadol and be vigilant with redressing the wound each day to ensure I didn't get an infection. That would have been the end of the trip for sure,” he said.
Mr Arms did not want to highlight the details of his brush with death with the Daily while he was still at sea for fear he would cause stress for his parents, who were anxiously following his progress.
While the storm had definitely put him on edge, Mr Arms said days when the wind completely dropped right off were not much better for his nerves.
He was caught out in patches above Darwin and Tasmania and surprisingly not long before his super storm encounter in WA.
“The stillness drives you crazy,” he said. “The sails were banging and crashing with the moment of the waves and all you hear is the water slapping under the stern of the boat and you sit there, not making any progress.
“When you're in a hurry to beat a record and the boat's not moving, it is tough mentally to tune it all out and keep moving the boat as best you can.”
As the two-time winner of the Solo Trans-Tasman yacht race, Mr Arms was well equipped to deal with repairing a four-inch stress in the mainsail on day two of his journey and replacing items beaten and battered off his 14-metre Big Wave Rider during the storm.
Mr Arms docked in Mooloolaba on Thursday after 39 days at sea, smashing the record set by Airlie Beach yachtsman Ian Thomson in the 12m SOS Ocean racing monohull last year by three days.
Mr Arms described his homecoming as having a weight lifted from his shoulders.
“I was always on edge, sleeping just 20 minutes at a time and trying to be ready for anything,” he said.
“Then when Jessica (Watson) jumped on the boat with some Tim Tams, I was able to settle down and enjoy the cruise down the river and light the flares for the onlookers.”
Ever the adventurer, Mr Arms already has plans to take on another challenge next year – one he is keeping firmly under wraps.
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