Desperate Times

Mon 16 Jul 2018 10:10

15.39.39N 88.59.75' W

The engine has failed, we have no wind and can barely steer a course as travelling at less than 1knot. We have over 200 miles to go and as things stand we will miss Caroline's Dad's funeral.

Even worse we have an atoll with coral reefs coming up with stronger currents around them, which we are worried we won't be able to steer a course to miss.
Our satellite phone has stopped charging, so we feel we have to save this for emergencies. All our weather forecasts were for stronger winds, but we don't want to waste the phone battery checking the weather updates. So, desperate times indeed.
Yet again, the engine starting, going and then giving up. This time, with everything we have sailwise, we went backwards in the current towards uncharted coastline.

The satellite phone mysteriously started charging again, hurray – now we have a weather forecast and we have to limp along on the engine for 12 hours, just as we are approaching another strong current area.
Whilst sailing we hit an eddy and sailed most of a circle – this journey is definitely a bit stressful. Our contingency planning has gone into overload, we may be a bit doomed. No wind, the engine went for ½ hour, then for 2 hours and finally some wind so that we can sail slowly. Our problem now is we are arriving at the atoll with very strong lee currents, with a lee wind and possibly no engine. We have finally arrived at the potentially worst current area, at night and no idea as to whether or not the engine will work for any length of time.
As night approaches we lose the wind and ability to steer, so we are now heading towards the atoll at 0.5 knots. Thankfully when the engine did work earlier we had headed straight off shore to give ourselves as much leeway as possible.
Unbelievably the engine starts and runs at low revs (So we are very slow) for most of the length of the atoll. Just as we reach a point we can safely sail at, the engine starts to fail again and we have to switch it off.
The winds build and build to 24 knots, we have to keep reefing, we now have breaking waves throwing the boat around. From the ridiculous to the sublime.
Anyway, with crashing waves, lightning all around we sail fast through the rest of the night.
Now we have the situation where we can only arrive at Livingston at the wrong time of day and so we actually have to reduce sailing speed. We are going to go slowly through the night to to arrive on a rising tide. This area is known for pirates, the moonrise is late on and the lightning crackles overhead. The wind is creepy as it makes ghostly sounds in the rigging and sails. Onwards we sail at 2-3 knots, perfect timing for the rising tide and daylight.

Finally, all wind disappears and we motor slowly across the 0.8 mile sandbank. Fishing boats, nets and buoys abound, we go over depths of 50m, 20m, 5m and 3 times, 0m, we feel a couple of little bumps as fast local motor boats create enough wash to reduce the depth.
By 0800 we are anchored awaiting customs before continuing our 20 mile journey to the marina for our off season. There is no wind, no accurate charts and we can only travel at idle speed so it is going to be a long day. The tender is to be towed behind us as a spare tow boat just in case the engine does not last. Idle speed should extend the time it works. The depths are up and down all the way and then we spot withees. Caroline is yelling Murray, Murray 'withies, bloody withies' again we have hit 0 metres but not touched bottom. A good look round and we can see that a river has dumped a load of silt creating a bank of mud and sand where one had not existed, a boat had taken out the first withe so confusing the course. By the skin of our teeth we avoided going aground as we slowly motored into deeper water. Another yacht later in the day had to be towed off by a helpful passing local boat.

No wonder we find diving so relaxing, sailing is not for the faint hearted.
This journey broke one of our golden rules, never to sail to a time deadline, but we made it past the second longest barrier reef in the world with 100s of miles of poorly charted water, with strong currents, rip tides and potential for tropical storms and waterspouts.

( A withe is a strong small branch that is stuck in water to mark a course and can be very hard to spot)