A Terrible Night
31 May 2012 | Island of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
The following is the full story of what happened the night we arrived in Suwarrow. I wrote this when I was on anchor watch between 3:00 am and 6:00 am the following morning.
When we arrived in Suwarrow, we were anchoring in the rain but there was little wind. By the time we were done anchoring we were soaked and the anchor chain had wrapped around a coral head before we could safely back down on the anchor to make sure it had dug in. We decided to let out more chain and wait to see if we would break free from the coral.
We began to start our regular post passage duties, putting everything on the boat back together. We began to look forward to a quiet night on the boat and a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. As I write this blog, I have only had four hours of sleep in the past 24 hours and it doesn't look like either of us will be getting much more sleep soon.
The wind picked up in the anchorage around 5 o'clock and we quickly realized that we were much too close to another boat in the anchorage. They kindly asked us to move and luckily we had Mark and Pau from Beatoo and Gavin from Sapphire on the boat for a visit. We began to take up the anchor and the wind started blowing about 28 - 35 knots. As we were picking up the anchor we started moving much close to the neighboring boat, Peat Smoke. The guys on the boat threw out fenders while Mark continued to bring up the anchor. I was at the helm of the boat trying desperately to get away from Peat Smoke while Mark kept pointing that I needed to move closer to them to get the anchor up. After a bit of a struggle and one close call, the anchor was up and we quickly moved to deeper water to figure out what to do next.
Gavin from Sapphire suggested a spot to anchor given that another boat had left that spot today. We moved into position and the wind was now consistently at 30 knots and the rain was coming down in sheets. We dropped the anchor in sixty feet of water which we understood was as good as it would get in this anchorage. After some questioning of whether we were holding, we determined that the anchor was set. We were bobbing up and down greatly which made us feel as if we could spring loose at any time.
As we finished, the VHF radio was active between the boats as about half of the boats in the anchorage began to re-anchor. Some were concerned about their location while others felt they were dragging. The most concerning call was from Magali on Ensemble asking for help because their boat had dragged and was now on a coral reef. As we looked over to their boat is lay abeam of the wind as several other World Arc members raced to their boat to help.
The next few hours were incredibly stressful as we began to contemplate our situation and Ensemble's crisis. Mark commented on how Lee (s/v Samsara) had read to us from a guide book that stated how Suwarrow was an anchorage which should only be used in good conditions. The evidence of this statement being clear as one can view abandoned boats wrecked on the coral reefs around the atoll. We began to discuss all we could do to keep the boat safe.
We had set a waypoint (a big "X") on our GPS unit when we dropped the anchor. We knew that we were approximately 237 feet from where we dropped the anchor. Ideally, we would have about 300 feet of chain out but we only have 250 feet of chain. We put out all put five feet. Wind was also blowing us toward the island instead of away from it. So we had no protection from the wind and approximately 400 feet between us and the shallow waters and the coral. It felt like it was about five feet. We kept the engine on for the first several hours in case our anchor began to drag. Mark also has a neat app on his IPAD which is an anchor alarm. He entered the latitude and longitude of hour anchor and then set a distance that our boat should not exceed from that spot. If the distance were to be exceeded an alarm would sound. Finally, we decided that one of us would have to stay awake at all times through the night to make sure the boat was safe. Thus, I fixed us dinner and we began anchor watch. At least we could sit down below and watch the GPS screen which will transmit onto our television. I decided to bake cinnamon buns and brownies so I could deliver them to Ensemble in the morning. We also used the lap top to watch movies. If you have to stay awake all night, it's not a bad way to go.
As we were making these preparations, we learned over the VHF radio that Ensemble was off the coral reef but was taking on water. There were requests for more people to help and they were asked to arrive donning their PVDs. There were requests from Ensemble for pumps and any other equipment that would help them. We had a collision mat (a mat that you can put around your hull to stop the water from entering the boat) and some plugs (to plug holes in your hull) that were quickly picked up by another boat and brought to Ensemble. There continued to be requests over the next five hours for all sorts of help. We felt completely helpless in that we couldn't leave our boat to go help. Luckily, numerous people sent help while others stayed on their boats to keep watch.
It's now 6:00 am on Saturday morning. Since yesterday at 6:00 am, I have only slept three hours. I am running on adrenaline and honestly don't feel that tired. As Mark put it, we have sold the house, this is our only home and we need to protect it. Well said.