Because they Aaagh!
13 September 2013 | Sirutu
Time to leave the competing cat stranglers at Kumai. A quick reprovision on the way back from the Orang Utan park and I was ready to go. Tide determined the time to leave and I had estimated that to be 10:30 the next morning. I was a bit out, but got away and started drifting downriver, then motorsailing to the river mouth. Ahead of me was ‘Viatrix’, on their way to Africa, and I quickly overtook them as they were under motor alone.
Nearing the river mouth I heard someone reporting they were aground and wanting help. I tried to establish contact but they couldn’t hear me, so I presumed the trouble was at the entrance to the ‘leads’ such as they were, for this waterway. Michel, on Viatrix, and I radioed one another about this but he only had a hand held radio, so was unable to receive any of what I was picking up. Once clearing the shallows near the entry point I could see the masts of a boat well in to shore near the start of the leads. Now he could hear me so I spoke to him and learned he was stuck, near the beach in 1.8 m of water on a falling tide with two anchors out, but drifting toward shallower water. Not a good place to be. I was by now taking water over the bow with the wind against current waves that had formed at and beyond the river mouth and ‘San Miguel’, the yacht aground, was in the thick of them. Speaking to Michel he decided to call the one remaining yacht back in Kumai, Azimuth, and see if help could be organised. I passed on this information to the poor fellow on San Miguel and he asked if I could tow him off. With a deck pitching like a drunken horse, speed over the ground of only 2 knots due to the waves, and no way for me to anchor up to launch a tender, I told him he would have to get a line to me. He had a 50m one only, and I wasn’t prepared to get into the shallows where he was to receive that. All I could do was wish him the best. I still do not know what became of him, I did hear faint radio calls from him to a boat that had finally arrived from Kumai (after dark!) and they didn’t sound encouraging.
I had to make about 20 miles before getting into deeper water and turning for Sirutu. Taking green water over the bows fairly often, there was an impressive amount of water running down the decks, as the by now 2-3m swells pulled Swaggie from 5 knots to an almost complete standstill at times. A fair bit of power in those waves to do that to a 20 tonne vessel I thought. Night fell before I made the turn point. I was only making about 2-3 knots over the ground with engine and sails both powered up. But then dodging large ships and lighter barges at the turn where they anchor to unload and reload for Kumai was fun also!
Finally turning to put the swell well aft of abeam, Swaggie fairly leapt away on a port tack at 7+ knots. Make up for lost time, as I had planned arrival at Sirutu for dawn or near to it, and the exit to this point had put me behind that estimate. Uncomfortable corkscrewing was the order of the night and the inevitable fishing boats had to be avoided, but not in the large numbers I had experienced getting to Kumai. Then, at about 11pm local time a boat I took to be a fishing boat, closed with me on an intercept angle and turned a spotlight on Swaggie and held it on me. I radioed to try to determine what he was on about and there was some garbled shouted response. This boat was now turning into me as I came up abeam, and continued to do so. Enough I thought, and got the engine going and turned to a good speed point of sailing, which was just aft of a beam reach. Sheeting in and with motor on I made it to 9+ knots and started to leave him behind. He did pursue me for about 20 minutes all up before turning away. I think I had, by chance, done the best thing I could have and turned cross swell. Most of the local boats are narrow beamed and a bit top heavy, a beam on swell is not for them, and is probably quite tricky. I think this was what made him drop off the chase. I couldn’t warn Viatrix, who was following me when I last saw her, as no main radio put him out of reach. I hope they passed unscathed. I turned back on course with all lights doused, just in case it might have been a ‘tandem’ operation. Quite enough excitement for one night I thought.