So here we sit in Suwarrow after arriving a week ago finally being able to catch up on some rest. We look out all around us and coupled with a full moon high tide covering the otherwise exposed reef all we can see for miles is; endless ocean, the ‘Ranger’ motu, and a yacht holed on a submerged reef. There is plenty of hardship and sorrow on this extreme remote atoll.
Our passage from Maupiti was strategic as we knew there was a front just to the south of our intended track which we wanted to avoid. It wasn’t to be! One night we found that we had sailed straight into the front, luckily a stationary front where the wind died and rain persisted. After a debate about our use of fuel we decided to motor and were lucky enough to escape the front after 4 hours and sail again. Now the sailing was brilliant. Our new thought was to sail the boat and keep the speed up closer to the wave speed enabling a smoother and quicker crossing. And it worked.
|Relatively calm, really.|
|Marion was brought to tears after this mouthful as she spilled it......she had been waiting and trying to have porridge for 2 hours. (I put her bowl inside a mixing bowl immediately and the tears stopped)|
The last night into Suwarrow saw steady winds and we let out more sail, hence more speed and a smoother ride. 1 reef in the main and 2/3 of the genoa out…we were flying! However, as we reached Suwarrow we were again blanketed in a grey drizzle cloud formation of wind speeds no greater than 20 knots. During our preparations for entering the pass into the atoll our comfortable passage was over; we turned our backs for a minute and through the drizzling rain not more than 50m away we saw, and got hit by, a 35 knot squall. I came up from below to find Marion battling the helm, I tried to pull in the genoa but the boat gybed uncontrollably forcing the sails to back and leave us hove to. The wind continued and with the sails flapping it was only a matter of time before they were shredded. The engine went on and we finally came out of the hove to position only to have the boat round up into the wind. ‘Drop the main, drop the main’ I yelled to be heard above the screeching wind howling in the rigging. The genoa was beginning to shred I heard back. The main came down and Marion went on the helm again as I furled what was left of the genoa. We motored around in the squall for an hour licking our wounds and making sure everything was as safe as could be. Currents were pushing us towards the reef and the engine growled to keep us off. We must head for the pass and try and reach the safety of the atoll, so we thought!
|Quite a different outlook in a squall, don't be fooled by the smooth looking water, its not!|
The pass, with a 3 knot outgoing current, became easier than we anticipated and we enjoyed being out of the lumpy seas. We had communication with the other 5 yachts in the anchorage, who confirmed the accuracy of the charts, and showed us a good place to anchor.
Wow, what a morning after 5 days at sea we were exhausted. So the obligatory Bloody Mary breakfast was had which put us down for some much needed catch up sleep. We awoke to a rather bleak but calm anchorage and after checking the anchor, amongst coral heads, we settled in for a movie and more catch up sleep.
0030 hours, the wind picked up quickly to 35 knots creating 1m waves, felt like 2m with the bounce, in the anchorage shortly afterwards. A black ink night with the sound of crashing waves soon brought all boats to the realisation we were to be in for an unexpected night. After an hour or so sleep we were up and the VHF radio went on. Yachts were checking in with each other, cabin lights were coming on, and a careful watch was had to ensure everyone was safe. No, wait, listen to the radio……….a yacht has broken its anchor chain and is now motoring around the anchorage. Requests are put out for everyone to put on their nav lights so the motoring boat can see where we all are. No, he narrowly missed hitting one on the stern turning just in time. Marion is up now, there will be no rest tonight! Another near miss, and he is heading for Zenna but veers off in time. The wind continues, the waves are pounding, our anchor chain has wrapped around a coral head and our bow is snatching. I crawl along the deck and rig another snubber line to extend our chain another 10 metres, but some damage has been done to our bow roller. The black of night, the sting of the rain, the crashing waves…when is this all going to end. Hours seem to pass by but, oh no, I can’t believe it! The motoring yacht has hit a submerged reef and is calling for assistance, the boat is breaking up! It’s too dangerous and another cruiser offers sound advice for them to stay with the boat, it can’t sink if it is on the reef. We must wait for the storm to subside before attempting a rescue operation.
0800 hours, the wind has reduced its ferocity though the driving rain and pounding waves continue. We can see the stricken yacht on the reef exposed broadside to the weather with the waves crashing onto their deck. They are communicating on their handheld VHF now, water is a few feet deep in the yacht and their batteries are underwater rendering all boat electrics useless. The reef has put several holes in the hull and the rudder has been pushed through the bottom. The rescue strategy is forming but it is still too dangerous for an attempt.
Some hours go by but eventually all personnel are safely removed from the stricken yacht. The rain continues, the wind subsides a bit more, and the waves reduce in strength. Marion and I clean up what we can on Zenna, check the anchor chain again, and try to catch up on some sleep.
|It didn't look this clear and calm at the time!|
The weather has calmed enough now for us to go ashore and ‘clear in’ with Harry, the Ranger who performs immigration and customs duties amongst others. The anchorage is buzzing and the cruisers gather to assist in salvaging what we can from the stricken yachts; personal belongings first, environmental damages, then anything of value is ferried off by dinghies to shore. The mood is sombre, and we all think about how devastating the situation is. It looks like Harry is having guests stay for a while.
A yacht arrives in the anchorage, and learning of the events and having caught a couple of tuna on the way through the pass organises a ‘pot luck’ on shore that evening. A brilliant event with plenty of food and beverage and we manage to meet all the other cruisers, giving our condolences and assistance to the stricken yacht crew.
We spent a lot of yesterday assisting the marooned yacht but it is now time to assess our damage. The genoa is unfurled and we stare in disbelief, the sail has lasted so long and we are disappointed to see it in such condition. We are really unsure of our options here. The main is raised and we soon realise we can patch/repair what damage there is. A departing yachts calls out ‘impressive sails’ as they raise their anchor, we all laugh! We need to think….but in the meantime we lower the dinghy and assist in removing more salt water laden gear from the stricken yacht; cushions, electrical items, cups, cutlery, momentos gathered during their journey. Some will be saved, most will be ruined, all are being dried out on shore.
That afternoon we decide to walk around the motu, we need to get away from the boats.
|Very impressive sail!|
We try to get back to a ‘normal’ life, most of the yachts have left the anchorage to continue their crossing. The fridge is defrosted and options for the genoa discussed. During all this we are lucky enough to have 2 whales swim and play around the yachts, truly magnificent that they have entered the lagoon and come to us. Now we have done the dolphins, rays, turtles, sharks and while they are all special we are not use to whales, fantastic!
We visit ashore and another yacht, the type of which we nearly purchased. There is talk of people salvaging items from the stricken yacht for their own use and suggestions are made that we are to be offered their genoa in payment for our assistance…..this turns out to be true and I successfully lead the effort to place an anchor off the bow of the stricken yacht to ensure it doesn’t drag further onto the reef.
Marion and I commence repairs to the main sail.
During the anchor operation in the afternoon Leo and I took turns to position the anchor while watching a manta ray swim over for a look, majestic creatures they are. One dive to position the anchor resulted in my leg getting grazed on a coral head attracting about 6 black tip reef sharks. Now it was getting close to 1700hrs and Leo noticed the sharks starting to dart about. We called over Harry who was standing by with his aluminium dinghy and said we are not comfortable and explained why. Harry said, yea, its probably best, which we took immediately to mean ‘get the hell out of the water’. Leo and I did not need much encouragement.
As I leave the stricken yacht I use the opportunity to obtain their genoa and get it aboard Zenna. But before heading back to Zenna I notice a dinghy adrift in the anchorage. Everyone else was at the stricken yacht so off we went in chase. The dinghy drifted behind Zenna and by the time I caught up with it so had everyone else to find Marion stripped down to her bra and knickers in the dinghy trying to start it. No one really knew what to do but kept their distance and offered advice in how to start it. I thought it was quite funny, as did everyone else, but fair play to Marion stripping off and swimming through shark infested waters to rescue someone elses dinghy. Unfortunately we have no photos of this event! (Or rather fortunately – marion note)
We try to get back to a ‘normal’ life, undoing a coral wrap sees my cut bleeding finger attracting no less than 3 black tip reef sharks, but the wrap must be undone. More balls were placed on the anchor chain reducing further wraps.
A galley door is repaired after being ripped from its hinges as it swung open in the high tide slap as I walked through the boat last night and we decide that a review of the weather must continue as we have not done so for a week, so a catch up session is had.
Genoa, well we have measured and re-measured and are sure it will fit, but….. Down comes the old, and up with the new but it won’t go. A closer inspection reveals that the bolt rope that has to be fed up the track is bigger than what we have! Options are weighed and we decide we have to take the bolt rope out of the old genoa and restitch it into the new genoa. We pull apart the old, make a few measurements, and are sure our plan will work though it may take some time to do. Not a job for today.
Marion continues cleaning the boat and I assist the stricken boat to get the remaining rigging items off the boat.
My hair is cut, thankyou Marion, and the weekend is here, and it has been a huge week, we must rest……..so here we sit in Suwarrow….