Sunday 13 April 2014

Hell in a hole Part 2

“Verus, Verus, Verus, the vessel at 31 deg 24min South and 114deg 57min East please come in.”
I heard this a couple times before I realised it wasn’t a dream and had a strong feeling the radio voice was reffering to us. Slid out of my seaberth, stood up gripping the table fiddle and bookshelf fiddles, in the violently lurching Ashiki and climbed my way to the radio. By the time I had it in my hand, I saw the battery was almost flat, then I heard:
“Verus, Verus, Verus, will the vessel I have my spotlight on please come in.”
I peaked out the hatch, and through the murky gloom, over the din of 3 to 4m waves slamming our hull, I could see the outline of a dark hulk, about 1/2 mile away, with lights either side and a single powerful spotlight shining straight at us, like Cyclops had waded out to us. It was something out of a novel.
I ducked below and fumbled with the radio, inserted it in its cradle, made sure is was plugged into the power supply, and found the talk button “Ashiki, Ashiki, Ashiki, I think we are the vessel you’re referring too”.

Sea sickness is so debilitating. I was thinking how little I gave a damn about anything. I takes away your will to even help yourself. I could sympathise with sailors I read about who after days of rough seas and seasickness hit the Epirb button. Get me off this boat! Lose a perfectly good boat, nothing wrong with it, because you’re not feeling well… it happens. I heard of a guy who bought a large sailboat, went somewhere far, like Albany and back (where the weather gets really bad). After arriving back, walked off the boat never to step on it again. The boat went back on the market. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

While lying in the seaberth feeling like hell, I would listen to the occasional big wave slam the hull, never mind the talking sounds coming from outside, (they were still happening) and my mind would go to how we built this hull. Is it strong enough? Will it come apart? Two layers of plywood, fastened with epoxy and bronze nails and sheaved in fibreglass, 3 layers on the chines. Would any of these joins open up? And of course the perennial..  why are we even here? I tried to supplement my strength by eating a few tiny scraps, and drink some water, which all came back up of course. But it took many hours for that to happen, so hopefully some nutrition escaped to the bloodstream in that time. Susie did not even attempt to eat until morning. *

On the second night of the storm at around 10pm, the tug boat captain made contact over the radio. After my first transmission “Ashiki, Ashiki, Ashiki, I think we are the vessel you’re looking at”, his relieved reply “Well that was loud and clear!”
He saw our light out here in the middle of nowhere and wanted to know what we were (a 35’ sailing yacht) and whether we were in need of assistance. Not that he could give any, he was a tug boat towing a barge.
No, we were ok, we are laying to a sea anchor and waiting this one out, I told him. He relayed this to Fremantle Coastal Watch, since our 5W handheld radio did not have the range. They wanted to know how many people were on board and did we have an Epirb, (as well as our full names). Two and yes we did.
The captain was very helpful, noted that it can get “really rough” out here when a Sou’Easter is blowing. He said there were electricity blackouts in Perth because of this storm and tomorrow was forecast another one. (The forecast yesterday was for electrical storm and light winds - which is no big deal around here). I told him we aren’t ready to abandon ship yet and we’ll have to tough it out.

By 2am I had enough of sea sickness and waves slamming us and didn’t like the sound of “another storm” tomorrow, I had been thinking about the hole we were in, and maybe it was calmer nearer the coast, since the SE’ster is, after all, a land breeze. It was a mistake to go “offshore” in a sou’easter. I had a plan, conferred with Susie, and we decided to act on it. I was going to make Ashiki sail herself out of here. No need to supervise the finicky windvane (we were too sick to), because on a close reach (sailing slightly into the wind), Ashiki can sail herself. By lashing the tiller she holds a straight course. Just about all yachts can do this, the Hiscocks circumnavigated before windvane self steering was commercially available, and looked forward to upwind sailing as it was the one course the boat didn’t need crew in the cockpit.

The night was as bright as day, as I remember it anyway, because it was a full moon. Hauling in the sea anchors was really hard work and lost two of the three. The rodes were twisted together, I did it wrong, never lay out more than one line from a boat. Then I hauled up 3 panels on the foresail, nothing on the main (less than 1/4 available sail area) and lashed the tiller in the middle. No need for more sail, don’t want to go fast, only to be heeling & tossed around more. A reach towards North-East means going along the waves, not into them, fortunately. Ashiki started pulling herself along at brisk enough 4 knots, I was satisfied she was staying on course and went below and back to bed. I was still sick. But at least the motion was a little better, heeled to one side and not rolling about like a metronome.

I tried to maintain a look out, once every 20 or 30minutes, but more like once an hour. Susie woke me up at one stage suggesting that I should be looking out more frequently (she was feeling worse than me then, definitely a bed case). I looked at the screen (OpenCPN on a laptop) to check our progress, 2.5 to 4 knots in a straight line, hour after hour, then peaked out the hatch and saw 2 red lights up ahead. Raced down to get my glasses and saw them move away. Must be fishing boats. But Ashiki was pulling along like the dependable workhorse she was. If only the skipper was that dependable..

Next time I woke, it was dawn, 6am, and the seas were calmer. Much calmer, waves 1 to 2m, winds less intense, maybe 15 to 20 knots. Ashiki had sailed a steady 13 mile north east course towards the coast, while her crew were flat on their backs useless, she had sailed us out of the storm.

We're feeling better already.

* Susie: I am convinced that we had food poisoning from 3 days left over mince beef curry, having said that, we made haste to the local health food store at the very next port, to buy some ginger lozenges, as a precaution/prevention. They also have the added benefit of being yum. 

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