final one ....for now
27 February 2013 | Santa Cruz de Tenerife
This will probably be the last blog entry, at least for a while. The reason being is that Viewfinder is drifting in the Atlantic ocean without a crew as we had to abandon ship.
Everything was going pretty smoothly, maybe too smoothly for all the events that have happened since October when we lost our rudder on a passage from Portugal to Madeira. We left Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands on Saturday the 16th of February at 15:00. Not long after the crew started falling like dominos to seasickness. Gilson was the first to go, he put his head over the railing and emptied the contents of his stomach into the agitated waters we were sailing in, he never thought it would be like this. He asked me to contact any passing vessel that might be going back to Mindelo so that he might jump ship and head for home and the stability of terra firma. Next to go was Janette, but that is to be expected, it takes her a couple of days to get used to the motion of the ocean, she not quite as bad as Gilson. The last to join was Federica, and she really wasn’t to sick. Everyone stood their watches in pairs, as Gilson had no experience and Fede (her nick name) had limited experience. I stood with Gilson and Janette with Fede. They all took the task taking the helm when needed. When Gilson wasn’t steering the boat he lay his head down so as to get some rest. The days passed and everyone started feeling better (in reverse order) and began eating solid food slowly. When meal time came on, Fede stepped up to the plate and prepared sandwiches for lunch, and pasta or beef stew for the evening meal. The weather wasn’t too bad, the days would start out cloudy but by noon the sun would shine. The winds were usually in the 16 to 17 knot range coming pretty much straight onto our stern. I thought the winds too strong to use the whisker pole, and with a novice crew not advisable. This led to the genoa luffing occasionally as the wind would go over to the other side of the sail.
Sleep did not come easy for all. Gilson being afflicted and not used to being at sea had very little sleep. As to the others it was catnaps, but I do remember having to jostle Janette a couple of times to wake her for her watch.
It happened on my watch and I was at the helm. There wasn’t anything different about the conditions since we left Mindelo, and I was confident that we were going to be on Martinique in 12 to 13 more days, when there was a slight jerk in the wheel, followed a few seconds later by a second. When the third one hit we had lost steerage once again, something I was assured by the folks at BoatCV would not happen. The crew quickly came into the cockpit and we all saw the rudder floating away. I hastily got our milk crates out once again to drag in the water behind us to help us stay on a steady course with a reduced sail. Again I got in touch with the rescue center in Halifax (nothing like hearing a familiar voice in a time of crisis) to let them know what happened, but that I was not declaring an emergency yet, as I had not had time to look at all of our options. He told me he would contact the Portuguese authorities as this was their area of responsibility in the Atlantic. The boat was heading in a north ,north east direction, the opposite of where we wanted to go, we were over 600 nautical miles from Mindelo, our departure point and that would have been against wind and waves. The Canaries would have been our closest landfall, but it was nearly 1300 miles away and we were only doing 1.5 knots, a very long time to get there. To add insult to injury we were nowhere near any shipping lanes. The weather was starting to deteriorate with winds speed increasing as well as wave height.
The satellite phone rang and it was the Portuguese Search and Rescue asking how we were ,what the conditions were like and if we needed assistance. With one crew member nervous, anxious and close to panic, worsening weather and no prospect of nearby landfall I decided that it would be necessary to abandon ship at the earliest convenience. On the plus side of the equation, Viewfinder was not taking on any water, and not in danger of sinking. We were told that the area did not have a lot of shipping, and the vast majority of sailboats leaving either the Canaries or Cape Verde had already departed and our chances were pretty slim of being intercepted by either pleasure or commercial craft, but said he would get the word out through GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System)
A few hours later the phone rang once again. This was a sailboat headed for the Caribbean. He was 250 miles from us and said it would take him 2 ½ days to reach us, he offered us all passage but that he could not tow our boat as his was an 80 year old wooden boat, and she would not be able to handle such a long passage under that strain. He also said he would call the coast guard in Cape Verde to see if there would be any help from there. It was time for people to get as much rest as they could , so it was back to standing watches, which really meant sitting in the cockpit with the Sat phone. A couple of hours later the Portuguese called back saying that a commercial vessel was being diverted to us and would be on station at 10:00 the next morning. The wait seemed long but in reality we had only been drifting for 16 hours when the Amazon Guardian contacted us and was in sight. Her normal run is between the oil terminals of Brazil and ports in the Caribbean. Two days out of their originating port the captain received orders to divert to Rotterdam. This ship is a large oil tanker well over 750 feet long, whereas Viewfinder is only 36 feet. We were all overcome by the sight of this very large vessel coming towards us. We felt like a toy boat in size. How was this vessel going to come along the starboard side of our sailboat without running us over. As she got closer and closer I wondered how this was all going to play out. The seas were relatively calm but seeing this leviathan so near I could only hope that the person at the controls knew what he was doing. I kept what little of the genoa sail I had out so as to keep Viewfinder as steady as possible. I left the cockpit to go forward to grab a line as instructed and as I approached the shrouds a wave shook the boat and I teetered over the side grabbing onto the shroud before going over. I was tethered but with the two boats so close to each other, being crushed was a real possibility. Messenger lines with monkey’s fists were thrown over the side to us only to miss and fall in the water. I saw that they had a line cannon ready to fire another heaving line, but this did not seem to be working. Finally one line landed near the cockpit and I scurried back to retrieve it only to go back forward to attach to the bow cleat, which I had great difficulty doing as this was a large hawse that barely fit around and had to jam in place as putting a locking turn was impossible. The line secured to the bow, a crew member walked it towards the stern passing it from one hand to the other, clearing obstacles in his path when the inevitable happened, it dropped clear to the water. We were still not made fast and Viewfinder was drifting quickly towards the stern.. I returned forward on the deck to uncleat the line and by the time this was done we had drifted all the way back to the stern where the hull sheers at an angle, the bow of Viewfinder was now under the hull and very near the rudder of our rescue vessel, and as one bobbed up and the other down the pulpit was crushed like a fly being swatted. It was time to return to the relative safety of the cockpit. The crew slowly maneuvered away to give us a little breathing room. The second attempt was successful and we were brought alongside being dragged forward the shrouds scrapping the side peeling away the paint and rust as we went towards the boarding ladder. It was time to go. With the two hulls banging into one another we were to climb up the ladder. One by one we were set to go. I helped Fede, followed by Janette and Gilson into a harness attached to a safety line to climb the swaying ladder up what seemed like Mount Everest. As quickly as I could I got all our personal belongings hauled up to the deck. I was then instructed to take off one of the mooring lines and to prepare the second one to be retrieved by the crew once I was safely onboard. It was now my turn to get into the harness and leave the deck of Viewfinder for the last time.
As I stepped over the railing of the Amazon Guardian and had my two feet on the deck, reality set in. This wasn’t a dream it was for real. We all had smiles on our faces as well as all the crew members of the Amazon Guardian, as they had accomplished a successful sea rescue. I later found out this was Captain Pavlos Pavlopoulous first rescue at sea as well as the helms man, it was the 17th for Elefthepios Vasilakis, the chief engineer. The engineer and helmsman Jose Chiu were operating blind from the wheelhouse getting their information from a deck officer and the captain who was out on the wing, all was carried out as delicately as possible under the circumstances.
We are all very grateful and thankful of the officers and crew of the Amazon Guardian for all of the efforts that they put in to rescue us as well as making sure of our comfort onboard.
The first thing we were told was to leave our bags on the deck. The crew would bring them in later. We were offered colas, water and juice in the officers’ lounge. Then we were invited to lunch in the officers” mess. We were seated together at one table. Later we were shown to our quarters. Jim and I were assigned the owner’s room on the Nav deck which at the very top. Fede and Gilson were assigned rooms on the level below where there are spare officers rooms. Each room has its own shower, toilet and sink. Each room has a closet, sofa and desk. This was luxurious for all of us. We were now the guests aboard an oil tanker M/T Amazon Guardian. The captain and officers were very welcoming as well as all crew members, we were to say the least a curiosity from the sea. Our bags were brought up to our rooms. We were told that the dinner would be served at 1700 hours. We had time to have a shower and rest up after our rescue. Jim went to see the captain and hand over our passports and ship’s papers..
Life aboard is like being in a floating hotel with meals served at specific times. Breakfast is from 0700 to 0800, coffee at 1000, lunch at 1200, coffee and cake at 1500 and dinner at 1700. The officers’ pantry is open at al times. There is cheese and fruit and drinks to choose from the fridge. There are no dishes to wash up and
no cooking to do. We only make up the bed and keep things tidy in our rooms. So Fede is showing me how to make bracelets from string. She makes and sells jewelry from beads and string which she sells for extra money to support her travel life style. She is also a trained esthetician so she given me a manicure and pedicure with French nails. Jim has the privileges of the bridge.
One of the first things we all wanted to do was to let our families now we were safe. We were given free calls in the captain’s office. There is no internet service on board this ship. Emails can be sent from the captain’s office. We keep ourselves busy by watching DVDs in the officers’ smoking lounge, by writing in our journals, by reading. We have nothing to do but eat, rest and sleep.
For how long? Well this ship is headed for Tenerife in the Canaries (possibly Santa Cruz) to take on bunker fuel and then to Rotterdam. The trip should take five days so we should arrive on February 26 at 2400. We will then have to go back down he boarding ladder to a service boat, as the Amazon Guardian will refuel while at anchor