Pacific capsize – Russian rescue

30 Mar 2022

Adrift in a lifeboat for 13 days in 1976, three of them in the eye of a North Pacific typhoon, Robert McIntyre is lucky to be happily retired these days in Albany, north of Auckland.

His hair-raising seafaring adventure is the subject of his book, Satan’s Eye, telling the story of the then novice sailor and his four crewmates, who left Taiwan for Vancouver in a new, 44-foot sailboat.

All was well until Guam, where the harbourmaster advised staying on 30-degree latitude – right in the typhoon belt. Three days in, 120-knot winds and horrendous conditions were endured before the boat rolled upside down on a rogue wave, and they were forced to prepare the life raft. The wild conditions continued until the storm abated and 13 days began without food.

“Water consisted of one-and-a-half ounces per person per day, caught from the life raft canopy, tainted with salt spray and orange canopy dye.”

All survived, their ordeal ending when they were rescued by a Russian whaling fleet.

Robert’s life since that experience “wiped me out financially”, has seen him operate as a successful businessman. He credits reliability, discipline and loyalty – traits learnt from his time at College – as serving him well throughout his life.

From a farm just outside Auckland, Robert was a boarder in Jacobs House at College from 1955–56, commuting via DC3 aircraft or train and ferry, “trips which brought out a sense of adventure”. Once a cigarette shared with some peers on board the ferry saw him caught red-handed by Prefects. The incident culminated in three strokes of the cane from the then Headmaster, Harry (Reg) Hornsby, the same man who later suggested a better option than attending College might be to join his parents on the farm.

He loved Mathematics, Physics and especially Music at College, but no mention was made of them in his audience with the Headmaster. Back on the farm, he missed his College friends and quickly found he had little liking for the rural life.

“My mind shifted around mechanicals and music.”

So, in 1966 he jumped on a ship to the United States and ended up in Canada, where he became a mechanical and marine engineer, ending up five years later in the lumber mill town of Tahsis, British Columbia, at the end of Nootka Sound inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A year later, he took over the marina and after three years, cashed up to buy the 44-foot sailboat designed by Doug Peterson, the idea being to take possession on completion in Taiwan, sail to Hawaii, then Auckland and finally back to Vancouver, where it would be sold.

“I had never sailed but considered myself well-experienced in powerboats, so learnt the rudiments of sailing and navigation from books. I can see ocean sailors shaking their heads on that last sentence.”