An unusual encounter

Mark & Sue Owen
Tue 17 Jun 2014 15:58
14:41.95N 63:25.32W

Miles to go to Bonaire: 319

All is well on board. We are making good, steady progress in 10-15 knots of
wind abaft the beam and slight to moderate seas. It's great to be back on
track again after the eventful few hours of yesterday evening...

So what would you do?

At approximately 1700 hours we were approached at speed by a 10 metre open
fishing boat. There were three people on board, very agitated and
gesticulating wildly for us to stop. It was obvious that they were looking
to come alongside and we were very concerned to say the least. As a
precaution we had our companionway security grille at the ready and we
contacted Falmouth Coast Guard UK via satellite phone to advise them of our
position and concerns.

Shortly afterwards the vessel approached and they tried to tie off to our
starboard stern quarter. It was incredibly difficult to communicate with
them because of their extreme agitation and what was an impenetrable Creole
dialect, but we were beginning to realise that they were in desperate need
of petrol. Unfortunately a month-long stay in Les Saintes had exhausted all
of our outboard petrol supply, so we were unable to offer them any. The
boat then dropped back behind us and appeared to be following us. With
nightfall only an hour away, we were concerned they might return.

Falmouth Coast Guard were fabulous throughout the whole episode and, having
contacted Martinique Maritime Rescue & Control Centre (MRCC), told us that a
vessel matching the name and details we'd given had been reported
missing/overdue whilst on passage from Martinique to Dominica. We were then
contacted by the Martinique MRCC who asked us to turn back and assist them
in locating the fishing boat. Although we'd travelled only two miles, we
had by now lost visual contact with the boat, but headed back to the
original logged position, allowing for some drift, scouring the horizon
through the binoculars as dusk fell.

We were incredibly relieved to spot them and were able to guide the incoming
helicopter directly to their location by lighting up Macushla with
everything we had. As we approached we realised they were now completely
out of fuel and we tried to explain that help was on its way. We were being
updated by phone every 15 minutes by the French MRCC.

We stood by as two of the people were airlifted into the helicopter, but the
skipper was unwilling to leave his boat (and livelihood) and we were asked
to stand by through the night until 05.30 a.m. the following morning. The
wind and sea state and size of the fishing boat meant it was impossible to
contemplate trying to tow him to the nearest landfall some 70 miles away.

We then needed to get a line to the fishing boat to ensure it stayed with us
until fuel/tow could be delivered to him the next morning. The boat had no
means of communicating with the rescue services, nor any lights and we were
asked to call in our position at 05.00 the next morning. So we settled in
to a roly old night lying ahull.

We managed to transfer some hot food and beer (!) to the skipper,as well as
a few other supplies. When asked if he needed some drinking water he used
some of his limited French vocabulary to say 'panache' and, in the
circumstances, who can blame him.

An update call from Martinique MRCC at 20.00 hours informed us that a patrol
boat was on its way from Dominica and would be with us in 2.5 hours. Never
have we been so pleased to spot a flashing blue light bearing down on us. A
tow line was quickly established and we were stood down and free to continue
our passage by 23.00 hours. Both the Martinique MRCC and the patrol boat
expressed their utmost gratitude for our assistance.

In summary, we all like to think we have routines and procedures in place
for these sort of situations, but fear and adrenaline kick in and can easily
affect your judgement. Fortunately we were able to relocate the fishing
boat and the situation was brought to a happy conclusion.