Ten Degrees of Reckoning: A True Story of Survival

Ten Degrees of Reckoning: A True Story of Survival

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by Hester Rumberg

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An international bestseller. A remarkable true story of one woman's courage.

In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to sail around the world. Three years into their incredible journey, a nearby freighter altered its course by a mere ten degrees-and everything changed...

After forty-four hours in the icy water clinging to an


An international bestseller. A remarkable true story of one woman's courage.

In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to sail around the world. Three years into their incredible journey, a nearby freighter altered its course by a mere ten degrees-and everything changed...

After forty-four hours in the icy water clinging to an overturned dinghy, her back broken and paralyzed below the waist, Judith miraculously survived, winding up in a small community on the New Zealand coast. Gripping, unbelievable yet true, Judith's story of courage, survival, and retribution is alternately heartrending and uplifting. It's also a story of unbreakable bonds, of shattering loss, and of one woman reborn through the strength of friendship and the profound love of strangers who became family.

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Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
1110L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page





One - November 24, 1995

Two - Ten-Year Plan

Three - Beyond Armchair Cruising

Four - Bonjour de Guadeloupe

Five - The Littlest Captain

Six - Abandoned by Grace

Seven - Rules of the Road

Eight - Grave Impact

Nine - Obligations and Procedures

Ten - Oceans of Sorrow

Eleven - Searching for Melinda Lee

Twelve - The Moan of Condolences

Thirteen - The Sailboat

Fourteen - Willing to Live

Fifteen - Realities

Sixteen - The Burden of Memory

Seventeen - Gathering the Evidence

Eighteen - The Investigation

Nineteen - Aotearoa

Twenty - Trials and Mediations

Twenty-one - Reflections

Twenty-Two - Ten Degrees of Reckoning







Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publishers Since 1838
a member of the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA • Penguin
Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,
Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale,
North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books
(South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


Copyright © 2007 by Hester Rumberg


Maps by Margaret Davidson, courtesy Hester Rumberg
Letter pages 125-127 © the Polley Family
Photograph page 247 © Judith Sleavin
Photograph page 249 © Hester Rumberg


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Rumberg, Hester.
Ten degrees of reckoning : the true story of a family’s love and the will to survive /
Hester Rumberg.—1st American ed.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01617-6

1. Sleavin, Judith. 2. Sleavin, Judith—Family. 3. Melinda Lee (Sailboat).
4. Shipwreck victims—United States—Biography. 5. Shipwreck victims—New Zealand—
Biography. 6. Survival after airplane accidents, shipwrecks, etc.—New Zealand.
7. Shipwrecks—New Zealand. 8. Boating accidents—New Zealand. 9. Pan Grace
(Cargo ship). 10. Cargo ships—Korea (South). I. Sleavin, Judith. II. Title.




While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For the crew of the Melinda Lee,
spirited adventurers all

A voice said in my sleep: “Do not delay:
Do not delay; the golden moments fly!”

The Masque of Pandora (1875)




IT WILL SOON BE THIRTEEN YEARS SINCE MY FAMILY disappeared with the downing of our boat, the Melinda Lee. I knew the story needed to be told, but I couldn’t do it, and it took me all these years before I was ready to entreat my trusted friend with the task of writing this book.

In 1993 my husband and I, along with our son and daughter, set out to live our dream—to sail around the world. For almost three years we did exactly that. But in 1995 my family and I were in a devastating collision that took away from me everything in the world I held dear. My back was broken and my skull was fractured, with some irreversible brain damage—but none of that compared with the loss of my family.

There were many times when I thought I, too, was going to die. What kept me alive was the love of my family and the longing to tell our story.

Everything you will read is true, and while there are terrible portions, as in life, there is also joy and love, adventure and resilience. When tragedy struck, the depth of the despair was almost exactly the inverse of the incredible height of happiness I had always experienced being with Michael, Ben, and Annie.

Throughout the years, filmmakers, journalists, and authors have all approached me with requests to tell my tale. I repeatedly heard the word “inspirational” attached to it and to me, and I hoped someday the telling might even save lives. But I wasn’t ready, until now.




I chose Hester Rumberg to tell our story. It was important to me that she had been an experienced oceangoing sailor like me, that she had sailed on our boat, and that she has been a treasured part of our extended family. I respected her professional accomplishments in her field as a radiologist, and then as my spokesperson in the maritime community. But most important, I could express my feelings and thoughts to her when I couldn’t tell anyone else, and she always understood. She had the empathy, love, and patience to listen, and the skill, intelligence, and knowledge to tell the story. A talented writer and a cherished friend, Hester has turned untellable circumstances into a powerful and gripping story. She captured my most elusive feelings and put them into words. She pieced together my painful memories and wove them into an accurate picture. She explored the meanings behind the facts without losing the authenticity of the story. She has balanced a story of unfathomable layers with reflective insights, and has given even me a new understanding of some of its features.

Some parts of this story are still too big for me to comprehend, and some of my feelings are still too raw to articulate. When you read the book, you’ll know my trust was not misplaced when I chose Dr. Hester Rumberg as the author. If I could have written a book, this would be it, exactly.



—Judith Sleavin


November 24, 1995



THIS IS NOT MY STORY. IT IS A STORY EMBEDDED IN THE very fibers of my heart, and it has changed the direction of my life, but it is not my story. Oh, I’ve managed to insert myself into some of its chapters, but I am a long way from being one of the principal characters. They have been silenced by an enormous tragedy and its aftermath, and have selected me to give voice to a story that needs telling. I choose to begin the account on November 24, 1995, but really, that is when the story ends.




On November 23, 1995, all over the United States people were enjoying Thanksgiving with their families, in their homes. The Sleavin family celebrated in the cockpit of their sailboat, the Melinda Lee, sailing toward New Zealand. They were about seventy-five miles from its coast, and they expected to be there by the next morning. This might not have been a conventional Thanksgiving celebration, but they were not a conventional family. The Sleavins had been away from home for almost three years, and they planned to settle down somewhere in New Zealand for a while. The family, Mike and Judy and their children, Ben and Annie, were in great humor. The weather didn’t match the mood of the sailors, though; it was overcast and gloomy, the wind was increasing in strength, the waves were getting larger, and the whitecaps were spraying them with sea foam and salt water. The Sleavins didn’t mind. After thirty-three months at sea, they were experienced in the routines, the capriciousness of the weather, and the patience required in ocean passage-making. The Sleavins had crossed thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in a forty-seven-foot sailboat, and after many remarkable adventures, they were approaching their destination.

At 8:45 that morning, they made their usual daily radio contact with other sailboats heading toward New Zealand’s North Island. Most voyaging boats worldwide like to make connections on ham and marine single sideband radio frequency networks. Belonging to a network of sailors gives the crew information about other vessels and conditions at sea, and decreases the sense of isolation. These nets also have a safety aspect. Vessels are expected to check in every day at an established time, and if they fail to do so, search-and-rescue efforts may be implemented. The Sleavins were part of a net facilitated by Annique, another sailor circumnavigating the world.



Morning Roll Call

0745 (GMT)

Meet the Author

Hester Rumberg is an experienced ocean sailor, with thousands of nautical miles under her belt. After the tragedy of the Melinda Lee, together with Judith Sleavin, she established The Sleavin Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting maritime safety around the world. She was, and will always be, the godmother of Judith Sleavin's daughter, Annie Rose.

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Ten Degrees of Reckoning: A True Story of Survival 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent, well written book. Such a beautiful family. I cried and yet was proud of the strength of the remarkable survivor. I have often wondered how one deals with personal, horrific events. Now I know.
chrisincalifornia More than 1 year ago
I live in San Diego county so this was especially interesting to me. This true story of survival will keep you on the edge of your seat and you will not be able to put it down. It is well written with lots of detail that those who sail will appreciate. The writer, a good friend of the family was entrusted to tell the story the true way it was. I learned a lot and felt the strong emotions on that incredible journey,
lamb615 More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few years ago.  It was very well written, introspective and a very good read.  It stayed with me for a while. Always a sign of a great book. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
USMC_WIFEY More than 1 year ago
i stayed up far too late finishing this because i just couldn't put it down! it's the true story of a woman who loses her husband and both her kids in one night and her struggle and will to continue with the new life she's forced into. i rarely cry while reading and only if it's a true story, but this book had me crying and praying for her continued strength, as her struggle will never truly end. as a wife and mother, i can't imagine the pain of losing my whole family and i admire her will to keep on living and still find joy in life. this book is very sad, but also inspiring. i would recommend it to anyone. the topics of love, loss and survival are universal. i know nothing of sailing, but that had little to do with the underlying theme of hope. it's a great book! read it! i'm most certain you won't regret it!
VegasMemories09 More than 1 year ago
Hester really digs deep and provides a true story about Judy's trials and triumphs through her loss. This was a moving sad but strengthening book. I recommend it to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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