Thursday, May 6, 2010

Near Disaster, Reefs and a Knockdown!

Crew bail out after the knockdown

Don helms the stormy midnight seas

I knew it was going to be a big night on Tuesday and it was. All afternoon we had been sailing toward an island and decided just as I sent the last blog to sail down the windward side as it was getting dark. Seas were big.  I was on the helm and about two miles down wind I saw the surf line. We were sailing fast downwind straight for it so altered course 60 degrees to starboard but the reef continued out ...It was all eyes in the cockpit and the seas really started to build. Two sets around 6mtrs came through and I was forced to ride them downwind at 12-15kts. It was exhilarating but we were then sailing straight for the reef! Slowly we crept around the edge which looked to extend about four miles out.  We all thought we were pretty dumb as we know about reefs but for some reason we just missed the was dark - very dark.

After that and we had to use the compass and I decided to allow torches also as things were getting tough. About five hours later in the dark a BIG island appeared as a shadow to starboard.  We could not tell how close we were as we did not know how high it was.  Was it a little island close or a big island far off?  Wind was 25-30kts and seas still around 4 to five mtrs.  I had just gone off watch when Quilter called out. "TED I HAVE BREAKERS DEAD AHEAD!"  I grabbed by harness/lifejacket and jumped up.  They were close and the boat was already rounded up to port hard on the wind and waves. The surf was only a few hundred metres away downwind of us.  You could see the phosphorescence in the water and we thought we could hear the thud of the surf above the noise of the sails and boat!!  It was a tense time.  

I grabbed for the emergency GPS chart plotter as this was very serious with no idea where the reef line would go.  Within  minutes I had it up and running but it seemed like forever.  It showed us still on the reef line but it was only another 300 mtrs to the edge and we would sail clear which is what we did.  This really made us realise what Bligh had done - was this nuts or what?  We were doing this as volunteers - no chart, no nav aids. We had to sail at about 5-7 kts to stay safe in these seas and we were sailing downwind which means if you come across a danger it appears fast.  Anyway we all agreed that if Quilter had not seen the surf it would all have been over in much less than two minutes - it was that close!!  Maybe someone was looking over us?

We could not sleep easily because of that and the weather with many little challenges during the night. I was happy to see the light of day but then we could see the size of the waves.  It had been building all night and now they took on a different shape - more confused and nasty.  We were regularly surfing into the teens and averaging maybe 7kts.  Talisker Bounty Boat is an amazing vessel and was handling it all very well. We were bailing out every 15 minutes and it was challenging to do the simplest things onboard but I continue to look at what we have and how well we are coping rather than the things we do not have or discomforts. If you start with nothing everything after that is a bonus, hey!

All the crew are working as a team so things are going well. When I was on watch at 12 noon, I was surprised at the sea. In the previous 4 hours the waves had become very confused and occasionally big - 6 or 7 mtrs.  Wind was now up to 35kts at times and higher in the squalls so we decided we were now in a gale. We were headed north into the gap between the main Fiji Island and Bligh Passage which is littered with reefs.  Our plan had been to go slow during the night even stopping and drifting and to sail during the day so we could see the reefs and islands but there was no way we could do that with this weather so we were headed up into a dead end gully. At 12.40 while I was on the helm a huge set loomed up.  I had a problem as a squall had just gone through and the wind was only about 25kts..  We were sailing with a deep reefed main only, the headsail and mizzen both lashed. 

The first wave hit the boat from the starboard side. I called for the guys to standby for wave! Then out of the blue as we were recovering from that another hit us right out of sequence. This one broke right beside us and right over us.  I was watching it all in slow motion. The mast went down to water level and for a minute I thought it may go right over and we would have to put our training into practice! But no - she came up fast which was a delight to see.  I called everyone to man the buckets. The aft part of the hull was full and just about awash.  While they all got to it I turned the boat downwind and within about 6 minutes most of the water was out.  I was looking over my shoulder not wanting another big one!!  Everything down below is tied in but still flew around.  I dislocated my little toe and took a big hit to my side. Fortunately there were no other injuries, a little damage to solar panels again and water into out books onboard which is a mini disaster.  We all reflected that it was a good exercise and showed the boat has what it takes. We were all very wet but at least we were not swimming.  

Conditions remained very challenging all the rest of the day...I made a decision that afternoon to again use the GPS chart plotter as we were running into danger with heavy winds and big seas behind us - not good for any sailor.  So again I have to concede that Bligh is a bigger man than me.  So Wednesday night saw us ride through the entrance of Bligh Waters with the aid of a GPS and turn left heading to a little island called NaiGai  where we dropped anchor around midnight.  Everyone was relieved.  I had only had a few hours sleep in the past 48 hours.  We were all hungry and have not been able to catch rain water so now on 1ltr a day.  I am bruised and battered but very happy about the rest of the voyage.  TBB and the crew are now one! 

This morning I woke after a 5 hour sleep to see what a beautiful island we are at. We pulled the anchor, rowed ashore and tied a line to a coconut tree.  We've been trying to catch fish all day, get some more drinking coconuts and have rigged the sails to trees to catch water but no rain yet.  We have a fire ready for the fish. Everyone is very lethargic, no energy but we have some repairs to make and reorganisation before we set off - probably in two days.  

I will let the crew tell you their impressions. This is a grand adventure and Bligh was a great man...Don from Nai Gai, Fiji


Patron of Sheffield Institute Foundation said...

To Don and Crew,
You are Brave, Brave, Brave and get more Braver-er as each hour passes.
Stay Brave and focused as the world watches.
Cheers Stuart

Patron Stuart Keane said...

Some comments left by the most recent very kind people who have made donations to help find the cure for Motor Neurone Disease also known ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) or La Maladie de Charcot, depending on where you are in the world; Whatever they call it all spells misery for the poor people who have contacted it.
"Very best wishes for your incredible journey"
Donation by A supporter of the University of Sheffield 02/05/10
Good luck - a very brave challenge for a very worthwhile cause. Donation by Geoffrey Theed 03/05/10
Thanks on behalf of SIF for getting behind Don and his Crews brave quest. Remember it is Don and the crews mission to raise 250,000 for the research into these horrible Diseases, so let's support them in there endeavors.
Yes let's do it Guy's and Gal's

Anonymous said...

Hi Don and crew of the Bounty Boat!
Glued to our seats reading your thrilling account of the 'close shave' with the reefs and knock down. What an adventure. Keeping you all in out thoughts and prayers.
Billie & Tom Watson (Jessie's grandparents.

Anonymous said...

Hi @anonymous on last post - they have made it clear that Crew can't read the bloggers comments earlier. That said we all need to still show support for them as if we are encouraging them - and I am pretty sure Stu will be passing along the general feelings of bloggers to the intrepid sailors as it unfolds - sounds like it was a hornendously tough day and night - hope all is OK with you guys and hope that you can harvest some rain whilst on land. Take care and stay safe. MJ

Anonymous said...

G'day Don and Crew,
I came to know of your amazing voyage through Jessica Watsons website. One of the fellow bloggers has you listed in his blog.
Just wanted to send best wishes to you all and will keep you in thought and prayer.
I'm the Mum of a serving Aussie soldier. I admire those who step outside the square and challenge themselves and embrace this life journey.
Full credit to you all!
Cheers ..... Soldier's Mum in SA [South Australia]

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
johnboi said...

Wow, sounds like it really is turning in to quite an adventure. If this blog was a book then I would have problems putting it down.

Jim said...

Just amazing to read of your adventure -- best of luck! Also, though I realize the crew can't read our comments, maybe someone who can will explain whether the map is working or not. I can't see anything on my PC, so am wondering if its my prob or what?

viviane said...

stay safe, No wonder why jesse watson is so strong, she had a very good mentor with you Don, best wished to the crew, we are with you every inches of the way. Viv from down under Western Australia, what a challenge!!!!

Patron Stuart Keane said...

To MJ.
Thanks for your comments & Support
Cheers Stuart

Patron of SIF Stuart Keane said...

Dear Jim,
I have just checked the map on the position tab and the sattelite map is working OK showing the TBB at the following position.

bounty2 on 2010-05-06 16:47:04
LAT: 17 34.4 S LON: 178 40.7 E COG: 269 SOG: 0.0KT

Thanks for your valuable comments.
Cheers Stuart

Toni McLean said...

What an extraordinary story - I don't know how you remember all the detail and the sequence of events. It would all become a blur to me. It must have been very scary, even for the most seasoned adventurer. I sure am glad I kept my hand down when you were looking for crew! :-)

Thank heavens for technology in a crisis. I can't help but think that before the advances in technology people just approached challenges differently because they didn't have the technology to fall back on. So, while you say Bligh was a better man (?sailor) than you Don, maybe he was also just a product of his times as you are of yours - different ways of approaching a situation because of the different (or lack of) resources available to each of you. We are seeing the changes happening very quickly when we look at how children and adolescents approach learning now - very different from old fogies like us, thanks to the internet, google etc.

I hope the stay at Nai Gai is restorative.


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work. I hope the fundraising is going well. May you have fair winds, bountiful seas and a good shower of rain.

Mike said...

Hey Don. Well done. That was a great bit of Skippering on YOUR part Captain! Bligh would be proud of you guys! Congratulations also on your choice of boat. What a little ripper! Fancy surfing at 15 knots. Go you good thing! God speed. Mike (Syd)