June 2, 2015

Aground! where there is no coast guard

There are many sounds you don't want to hear on a boat: one is wind howling through your rigging and another is urgent knocking on your hull letting you know a friend's boat has blown up on the reef. We had both in the dark hours of this morning.

The waters around Boddam Island are a labyrinth of coral reefs and bommies which break the surface at low tide. Because anchoring in coral like this is difficult (and damaging to the reef) over the years cruisers have put in a number of moorings which appear well-made but are so overgrown with seaweed they're difficult to fully inspect. The practice is to tie up, then back down against the mooring with your engine at full throttle and then dive on the whole thing to inspect it.

Friends on a boat I'll call P. (they haven't alerted family or their insurer yet) did all the right things with their mooring—but around 4am, when the wind reached 30 knots, something broke. They were blown through a maze of coral and ended up wedged on a bommie. As the tide dropped everyone in the anchorage helped to secure them—putting out anchors upwind, laying tires under their hull to cushion against the reef, and searching the charts for a route out of the reef.

Many boaters carry a book called "Where There is No Doctor". It goes beyond basic first aid and ventures into how to stabilize someone for days on end. While there is no book with the name 'Where There is No Coast Guard", we all carry the knowledge that there isn't any outside help in many of the places we sail. Right now there's no towing company, no coast guard, and no local fishing boats to help pull P. free. When we finally get them off the reef there's no yard to repair their damaged rudder and bent prop shaft and no shops for supplies.

Like so many of the emergencies that happen on boats, all we have at our disposal are the supplies we carry, the skills we've developed and each other.

Anyone who is a long distance sailor can tell you how important the cruising community is. There's the value of camaraderie—simply knowing someone else who understands what it means to arrive in Tahiti at sunrise (and who doesn't want to slap you when you mention yet another exotic landfall). There's the generously shared expertise that comes from a wide range of backgrounds combined with hard-won sea miles. And, at times like this, there's the willingness to risk your own comfort, safety and equipment to help out a fellow sailor.

Sailors are some of the biggest heroes I've ever met. They're also the some of the most humble people I know. Today, as six boats and crews pool their resources, skills and efforts to save one of our own it's with the knowledge that any of us could be the one in peril.
And our community is our best hope.

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