10th Aug 2012 - 12th Aug 2012
Port Douglas Indigo rescue
Friday 10th August.
Back to earth. Rooms to clean, post to collect and food to buy. Not exciting at all.
Saturday 11th August.
Up early to be down at the club for the 8.30am race briefing. The race starts earlier than expected because the tide running out is making it difficult for some boats to leave the inlet. The wind is a good 20-26 kts from the SE. We are short crewed but manage to pick up Scottish Ryan from Wednesday night, and a regular from another boat left behind by the earlier start. This girl Melanie regularly drives 26 kms from Cooktown for the sailing so she is keen. Great. The race starts 10.10am with everyone heading for either of 3 buoys set in a line at different distances. We have to round all three in any order twice each. Some boats head for the furtherest but we stick to the nearer 2 and have completed 2 roundings when the radio notifies us that the race has been abandoned. I ask race control (Helen on Ice) why and she just replies “look behind you to the beach“. We look back and see Tau Ceti stationery beside the furtherest buoy pretty much on the beach. Indigo the shallow drafted catermaran, is nearby probably offering assistance so there are now 2 boats very close to the beach. This makes it very hard for the rest of us to make a port rounding.... We head back to the marina to wait for instructions. It is 11.30am and low tide. We hear on the radio that Sea Rescue have been called in and are trying to pull Tau Ceti’s mast over to clear her keel. Mike decides to head to the beach to investigate. I stay and chat to my big brother, but after a while a message comes from Mike “come down 2 stuck.“ Mmmm. I drive over and find big crowds at the surf carnival at the north end of the beach but a kilometre south Indigo is looking lonely. Apparently Tau Ceti got off ok, Mike having climbed on board to assist them home as they had very few useful sailors on board other than Catherine and the elderly skipper. Everyone has left the Indigo crew, also including a few novice sailors, to wait for the tide to return. They have a few hours to wait. After checking they don’t need fuel or clothing and everyone seems happy, I promise to return around 2.30pm and head back to the club for lunch. They have an anchor out their stern so hope they will just float off....
Over lunch a shaken Catherine reports what happened. Apparently another boat tacked too early on them and forced them to tack and run into the buoy. Their keel and rudder collected the mooring line and rendered them powerless. The wind then drifted them with buoy attached into the shallows. She looks very pale and tearful.
Around 2pm I take Melanie over with me, Mike and Ryan go in his car. There are about a dozen people hanging around watching on the beach and a few more from our club are in the water fixing the now broken anchor line. This is not good. I climb aboard to help out wherever I can. I phone Helen to arrange a wheelbarrow from the club to be brought down to relieve us of the buoy and anchor currently sitting on the bow. That rids us of about 30kgs. How can we get the bow around. Well the skipper seems convinced we should be able to reverse off as soon as his rudders become unstuck. If we try turning they will be damaged. A nearby rubber ducky takes another anchor out into the waves for us and I winch them every time I feel the boat lift. Maybe we can inch our way out in reverse. Nup. The lines break again and again despite Mike and Campbell and (crazy) Pete swimming out and bravely retying them. Colin talks to the Coast Guard who say they will come over about 3.30pm to 4pm. They are finding a crew!
The waves are increasing, as they do in the 3rd and 4th hours of tide movement. The stern is taking on more water then we would like and one bilge pump has stopped working. Mike is back and in the water with the others retying the anchor lines again. Ryan and I start bailing with big buckets.
By 3pm we are in serious shit. Both anchors are lost in the mounting surf. We are stuck facing the wrong way. On board, I am still arm-sweeping water out of the cockpit with each wave. The dinghy on the davits at the stern (which should have been removed earlier) is also awash and we are in danger of losing the outboard, fuel etc. I manage to release the line to drop it into the surf and swimmers take it ashore. Melanie, bless her, takes over looking after all it as well as my phone and car keys left beside Ryan‘s bag on the sand (which is disappearing in the tide). The outboard and stuff is placed into the back of my car. The boat turns side on to the waves and lifts out of the sand so swimmers help us turn the bow to the sea. Now one engine won’t start. The helm is not responding and with one underpowered engine it means we have no steerage, no control. We start to drift (bump) our way north up the beach. We try letting out the headsail in an attempt to sail away but the bow simply whips around toward the beach again. We bring it in fast. Ryan jumps ship.Ryan jumps ship. Mike comes on board to look at the dead engine. As we drift closer to the surf carnival, some life savers decide that maybe instead of yelling at us to get out of the way of their swimmers, as we are ruining their event by the way, they might help the other swimmers from the general public keeping the bow out. Wow that’s a good idea!
By 3.30pm there are about 20 swimmers in the water (a fairly dangerous situation in itself) but at least we are still facing the ocean even if we still seem to be taking on water. Now we just need the Coast Guard to turn up with a tow line. We drop off a few of the crew to the beach. There is just Colin and Ali, young Simon, Mike, myself and Pete left on board. Mike manages to get the other engine working with a wire fuse but it will not rev. We think it must have water in the fuel by now. Simon and Ali are busy bailing the hulls. Anxiously we watch the Coast Guard boat stand out about 200m from us seemingly with their own problems. The line is too short and they are trying to connect more lines, meanwhile the line they have has somehow got wrapped around their prop! Good Lord! A big boat in the marina, the Norseman, has been listening in to the circus and radios that they will come out to help as they have a 150m line. They arrive around 5pm when we are about 200ms from the rocks at the north end of the beach and stand off near the Coast Guard boat. A big surf lifesaving lady now decides to try to take command of the situation by ordering all the swimmers to push the boat to the beach. Colin is busy on the radio so I become furious and challenge her. She tells me there is no rope coming our way and that she has been instructed to bring the boat in. I shout at her that there is one person in charge here and that is the skipper of this boat. She responds by ordering all the swimmers to leave the boat and head for shore. They are perplexed of course and want to stay. That leaves us with the about 10 brave volunteers holding the boat steadily pointing to the rescue boats out there. The 2 surf life saving dinghies (with only 2 way radios) finally go over to the Coast Guard boat which obviously advises them to pick up the line from the Norseman and bring it to us quick smart. This should have happened 30 mins ago. It arrives too short but we are able to tie one of our lines to it in the surf and be towed slowly but surely away by Norseman. I look behind us and take a deep breath. The huge crowd on the beach is cheering so we galantly wave back but we are all very aware of the perilously close call. Those rocks are a mere 150ms away.
Once we are out of danger the Norseman takes back their line and the Coast Guard hand over their shorter line. With our drogue out back to slow us to their speed in the following seas, they tow us in. It is after 6pm and dark now but with the help of club members we tie up to the club pontoon. We still have water coming into the hulls and on investigation we find that a rudder post has lifted and letting in water. We borrow more bilge pumps from club members and envisage a night long vigil. Colin is onto the slip way company for a booking tomorrow but they surprise us all by ringing back and offering to do it now. OK! Literally within 5 minutes a boat pulls alongside and steers us back down the inlet to the yard and we are ever so carefully placed on the cradle and winched out of the water. It’s over. By 7.30pm Mike and I are walking back to the club glad of the peace and quiet for 5 minutes.
Melanie has my car at the club but Pete’s bike is over by the beach and so is Mike’s car so there is a bit of taxiing for me to sort out before we unwind. Colin shouts everyone dinner. He is so relieved noone is hurt - well just a few bruises and rope burns. It could have been so much worse. The repercussions, reviews and analysis will continue for a while I suppose. Sheer tiredness overwhelms me and I head home around 9pm for a long hot shower and bed.
Sunday 12th August.
I ache all over. A text from Mike suggests he is the same. We meet down the beach where I head into the water at low tide and shuffle along trying to locate either of the 2 anchors and the long chain attached. No luck. I guess will be an insurance issue.
Colin phones later to invite me to a dinner party at their place tomorrow night. Apparently we have made it to youtube already on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-DVwcwAHuY
He had a debriefing with the Coast Guard this morning. They discussed the communications problems, equipment inadequacies etc. etc. I just hope it has everyone thinking about the things that should not have happened and if they did what they would do differently, starting with the original location of the laid buoy and what you should do if a boat cuts you off with tacking in front of you. It is a long list.