September 1, 2009
The B.F.H and Sailboat in Drag – Rangiroa
We knew something was coming. Weather Guru from New Zealand, Bob McDavitt had been telling us about the \”BFH\”, Big Fat High (pressure system) to the south of us. This thing stretches from New Zealand to French Polynesia. That is big and fat. It\’s accelerating the trade winds on its north side. Strong winds & squalls are predicted for September 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th . Right on cue at 4:00 a.m. the rain began. The wind built steadily and by 5:30 a.m. we went out on deck to see how all the boats were faring in the 25-30 knots. A monohull that had been anchored safely ahead of us, was clearly dragging and now perilously close to our port side. We started our engines to maneuver out of harm\’s way.
The solo gentleman looked small & helpless as his boat bobbed stern to the wind and waves, exactly opposite of all the boats that are securely anchored. Scott tried waving the radio microphone to get him to communicate his problem, but despite the fact that the man was clutching a handheld radio, all he returns is a \”deer in the head lights\” gaze. His genoa (forward sail) had partly unfurled. Sail & line viciously flapping in the wind added to the chaos. Scott figures he\’s French and can\’t speak English. The man is frozen, taking no action.
Scott instructed me to use our engines to keep \”Beach House\” out of danger then jumped in our dinghy to go take control of the frozen man and his boat. Due to the strong winds & their direction, the swell inside the lagoon was as if we were out in the open sea. A small splinter of islet in front of us is barely keeping the anchorage from looking like \”Victory at Sea\”.
As Scott unclips the dinghy davit lines, a huge swell rises then drops him in the dinghy, pulling the line out of its rope clutch. I secure it on a cleat. Note to selves: This must be rethreaded through the clutch before we can raise the dinghy back up. We waste no time, and re-secure this line properly between assisting our clueless neighbor. A figure eight knot in the end of our davit line will prevent this problem in the future.
Scott clips our dinghy to his boat & climbs aboard. The man says he is an Aussie from San Pedro, near Los Angeles, single handing and doesn\’t have a lot of experience! How he made it this far is a shock. He had tried to maneuver with his engine, but got his anchor line fouled on the propeller. He has no idea how to get out of the fix he\’s in. Embarrassed, but grateful, he follows Scott\’s directions. Getting the head sail down is the first order of business. Scott cuts the tangled genoa sheet to not be killed by its flailing about. He asked the man to lower the halyard to bring the sail down. He does not know where the halyard is! Scott switched positions with him, getting him to haul down the sail as Scott found & released the correct halyard. Having done that, they stuff the sail down the forward hatch.
Scott next realizes he must dive on the man\’s anchor to clear the line from the propeller so the boat can be moved away from us and re-anchored. We had planned to go diving for fun this morning, but with this situation & the weather, that is obviously off. We notify the dive center of the predicament and they offer their assistance in the form of any necessary scuba gear. Scott feels for now, he can manage alone.
We tie our dinghy to the side of \”Beach House\” to keep her painter line safely away from our big boat engines. Scott quickly dons scuba gear, swims over to the monohull and takes a look. Sure enough, 6 wraps of his anchor line are on the propeller. Scott instructs the man to prepare a second anchor line that he can shackle to his chain. He tried to go OVER the bow pulpit with it. Scott stopped him and got him to put it through the bow roller. If he lead the line incorrectly, it would have bent the pulpit and/or cut the new anchor line. They take up the slack and Scott asks him to release the original rode. He cannot, as the bitter end is knotted up against the deck. He must cut it free.
Scott goes below to unwrap the prop and finds that it is dangerous with the boat pitching 3-4 feet up and down over his head. Not willing to be injured to save him 40 feet of anchor line, he cuts it with his dive knife. Now he has a functioning engine and his boat swings bow to the seas and we are getting somewhere. Scott reattached the pieces of cut anchor line to double him up as the back up shackle was too large to go through the chain. It had to be put OVER the chain in between links. This back up shackle was only 3 mm thick and Scott worried it would break off. He wanted the line doubled up in case the shackle let go.
Out of nowhere, a Polynesian gentleman has appeared to help out. This guy speaks no English. It turns out he was a good Samaritan dropped off by a friend from the beach in a dinghy. He gets one big \”atta boy\” from us.
John, (the owner – boat name still unknown as it\’s not painted on the stern), wants to just tighten up his gear and stay put. Scott cannot approve. \”If the wind shifts direction you\’ll be right on my bow. If you don\’t move, I must move my boat right now\”. John is convinced to pick up a mooring that is a safe distance from any other boat. These are described in the guide books as fine for cruisers to use, and at least two other boats here are on these moorings. Although we generally prefer our own anchoring equipment, if we know the moorings are good, we too have used them in other places in the past.
The electric motor of his anchor windlass burned out two days ago. He and our Polynesian friend spend an hour trying to get the anchor up by hand. The wind has backed off to 5 knots now. Scott bobs in the water above the anchor. The knock-off Bruce style anchor is hanging on to a piece of coral. If that lets go, his boat will crash on the reef. Scott is getting fatigued & cold. He sees the lift bags he\’d put in place on our own anchor nearby below & uses them to float up John\’s 30 kg (66 lb.) anchor.
As the boat begins to drift free of the bottom Scott hollers for them to start motoring away from us. The wind and seas are building again. I know we will not be able to rest until this sailboat is secured to the mooring and definitely away from \”Beach House\”.
Scott takes a fresh tank & I drive him in our dinghy to the mooring. There is no painter to it. Scott asks John to toss him the cut piece of anchor line, to make a bridle out of it that he can slip when he\’s ready to leave. Scott snorkels down 4 meters (15 feet) to get it attached.
It is blowing 30 knots again and our Polynesian Friend at the helm has no idea how to drive a monohull sailboat. Scott is almost run over 4 times trying to get the bridle line to John. I am in our dinghy staying out of the way, but in constant visual of Scott. John\’s boat hook, inadequately short to begin with, bends & is useless. Just as Scott is becoming exhausted and exasperated, the other Polynesian hero comes out in his aluminum dinghy, and assists in securing the bridle to John\’s boat.
I bring Scott back to the \”House\” and revive him with hot coffee and a hot shower. This adventure took 3 1/2 hours, most of which he spent in the water.
It is still blowing 20-30 knots but we can breathe easier knowing John is safely on the mooring and away from everyone else. We feel pity for the poor guy, but also some anger that his lack of knowledge and skill put not only himself but us in jeopardy. He\’s in his mid 60\’s and we have no idea what he\’s doing out here with his stated level of \”non\” experience, especially by himself. He told us he\’s going to go to Rarotonga next to get hauled out for repair work. \”You mean Raiatea?\”, as we\’ve never heard of a haul out in Rarotonga. \”No\” he says, Rarotonga\”. It\’s a mystery�
The wind and swell give the feeling that we are out to sea, but it is comfortable enough. We are safely anchored with 40 meters (150 feet) of 3/8\” (10mm) high test chain with our 30 kg (66 lb) Rocna anchor. Snug as bugs in a rug! The dive boats went out despite the inclement weather. We will see how things go tomorrow and proceed accordingly. It was not the pleasure dive that Scott had imagined he would make today. But a self-preserving act that also saved our fellow sailor. If we had just sat and watched, that boat\’s anchor line would have been eventually and he would have been instantly on the reef. He could not have started his engine and would have either washed up on the reef directly in front of the Kia Ora Village Hotel and possibly hit us in the process. No thank you.
Another neighbor sailboat, Adrian on \”Mandala\” (from New Zealand), called Scott on the radio after the ordeal, giving him congratulations for (literally) jumping in to save the day. I know what I don\’t know, which in regards to boating is a lot. But one thing I do know for sure is that I have the best and bravest Captain, ever inspiring me to be a more competent mate. Another day in the life of team \”Beach House\”.
Cheers from Rangiroa,
Cindy & Scott