Sunday, June 28, 2009

"On the Rocks!"

This however was not the traditional with two cubes of ice!  
I have been procrastinating reporting this adventure partly not to concern people and partly because it affected us more than we would care to admit.  About a week ago, at 3AM on Monday morning (these things always happen in the middle of the night) the mooring we were on broke at the bottom and we woke up with Toketie hard aground on a reef.  Fortunately it was at the inside edge of Snake Island, a small island in the bay we were in.  The wind had been up off and on all night, and I had been up off and on with it.  But during one of my naps, we drifted across the bay and struck bow first into the reef.  The wind, of course, had picked up again and was now pushing us sideways as we were jammed between two high spots below us.  It was an extremely unnerving experience.  We both scrambled out, got the engine going (luckily we did not have a fuel pump in pieces) and put it into reverse and gave it as much power as we dared.  The rudder was jammed in the rocks and we did not move at all.  The tide looked to be very high and that meant if we did not get off soon, we would be high and dry in a few hours and lying on our side!  We then got on the VHF radio and placed a Mayday call to anyone listening, hoping to get a power boat to help pull us off.  A local Fijian boat came back and was too far to assist but phoned the police on a cell phone and relayed that they were heading to their boat at the yacht club in the next bay and would make their way over to us.  This did not sound like it would help us in time.  Another local cruiser in a catamaran heard us and responded as well.  They were anchored at the yacht club and could not navigate the reefs to our bay in the dark but offered to assist at first light if necessary.  We thanked them and signed off.  I then went back to trying to budge the boat using the engine.  I could manage very small motion forward but since that was driving it up on the reef, I put her in reverse again and left her running at high revs.  By the grace of Neptune or whoever looks after fools, children and sailors, a big gust of wind came along at just the right time, heeled us over enough to break free and we slowly crawled backwards away from Snake Island and into the howling wind.  In darkness we anchored somewhere in the middle of the bay, dug the hook in, breathed a huge sigh of relief, cancelled the Mayday call and made a pot of coffee!
If bad things happen in threes, this would be the third for us!  Our knockdown last fall out of Tonga, the recent storm and losing the engine, and now going on a reef so hopefully its all sunny skies from here.  Fiji has been rough on us in some ways.  On the brighter side, we have actually enjoyed our forced stay in Suva!  The engine is now repaired.  Today we found a place that can make us a new panel of safety glass for the dodger (did I mention that falling out on the passage?), the people are very friendly.  
Yesterday I dinghied over to the owner's home to meet him.  He was aware of what happened, as I had talked to his brother the next day when they were repairing another mooring in the bay.  Tony Philp is an Australian businessman who owns several marinas and chandlery shops in Fiji and we had been told that he is very approachable.  So after a brief chat, he offered to lift Toketie for free at Vunda Point Marina so we could examine the bottom more thoroughly.  We know we have scratches to our new paint job on the keel but further than that we cannot tell here.  Vunda Point is about two days away (depending how many stops we make) and on the West side of the island.  We have decided now to skip the more remote Northern areas we wanted to explore and head around to the West side where there are more resorts and tourists but supposedly it is sunnier there as well and the water will be clear enough to swim in some of the anchorages.
This cruising life can be trying at times!  Will try to have something cheerier to report on the next episode of the trials and tribulations of the Toketie and crew!

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