|Seaventres of Plane Sailing|
Listening to our daughters Nicola and Karyn suggesting that we should plan for retirement and settle in a secure village retreat in Cape Town overlooking both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and, at the same time, seeing the horrified expression on Bob's face, I knew this would never happen when he exclaimed, "What! Retire, walk a dog, play bowls whilst I wait to die – never!"
And so the search began. We ultimately decided to purchase a new catamaran with an interior designed to our own requirements. Our choice was a South African-built vessel. During the many months it took to build our catamaran, watching it gradually transform from drums of glass fibre resin into a splendid complex artistry of hull, deck and bulkheads, we joined a yacht club hoping to learn to sail. After joining, much to our dismay, we learned that the club didn't operate a training yacht and the majority of the yachts in the marina seldom moved. At the club we were introduced to a great many mahogany-reef sailors, persons who sat around the bar drinking and telling endless stories of their sailing exploits.
Real or imaginary, we were never sure. Our son-in-law, Wayne, strongly advised us to sail around Cape Town's Table Bay, delaying our departure for a year, to gain sailing experience. "At our age we don't have a year to spare," we replied. "If we don't giddy up we may never actually leave."
We headed westwards to faraway places, adventures and thrilling experiences that we could never have imagined. We speculated, would we ever see anything as stunning as the vast, gray, flat-topped buttress of solid rock that is Table Mountain as she majestically sank beneath the horizon.
I realized we must once more motivate ourselves, seeking further adventures to provide our grandchildren with something to remember us by. Life is not a dress rehearsal – it is the real thing. It's no use telling what we almost did. Make a start, you're never too old!
After departing Cape Town the first eight days of sailing were daunting with waves as high as halfway up the mast and blustery thirty to forty knot winds. This was an intimidating beginning for inexperienced sailors. The sea was wild as we rollercoasted up and down the endless tumbling waves, plunging off a wave crest to plummet down into the dark trough. Such was our rudimentary sailing knowledge. It was mandatory that we spent hours on navigation, plotting our progress on paper charts. As a backup to traditional navigational methods we also had to study a GPS and electronic-charts on the computer; Bob spent hours meticulously reading the instruction books on all the instrumentation and electronic-equipment fitted aboard.
St Helena appeared rising starkly out of the ocean early one morning, a gargantuan, austere island of volcanic rock with a ribbon of turbulent white spray thrashing the base of its rocky shore. Viewed from the sea, St Helena resembles a huge brown fruitcake with a portion cut out where the town nestles between 1,000 foot steep cliffs.
Our stay in St Helena was most enjoyable – a peaceful temperate island – but the biggest thrill of all was speaking to our daughters on the telephone and sending emails to family and friends. We were ecstatic to hear their voices, sensing the subtle change in their attitudes. Now our daughters were still concerned about our safety but also saying how proud of us they are. At this time we had no Internet connection aboard and no cell phone, our only communication with anyone was our VHF and SSB radios.
We embarked on a projected sixteenday sail to an island 300 miles off the coast of Brazil called Fernando De Naronah. It was excellent sailing weather as we departed, with the ark of a magnificent rainbow loitering across St Helena Island bathing the island and fairweather cumulus clouds drifting across the sky shepherded by the trade wind.
Another catamaran was also preparing to depart. Later, shortly before nightfall, we watched its sails and lights appear on the horizon behind us. Speaking to the skipper on the radio at 3am, he confirmed that he had us in sight and advised that he would be overtaking us soon since he was using both sails and engines to maintain his tight delivery schedule to the Caribbean.
Shortly before 4am, with the moon waxing towards fullness and Bob sleeping below, I watched the rapidly approaching catamaran, which appeared to be getting too close for comfort. Since I knew the experienced skipper himself was at the helm I was not unduly concerned. Nevertheless, in addition to our navigation lights I switched on the cockpit lighting, illuminating Plane Sailing like a Christmas tree! I awakened Bob and we were appalled to see the vessel careering down the swells towards our stern with its sails set and engines throbbing. Bob quickly started our engines, going immediately to full throttle, but it was too late to avoid our being rammed, although it did help to reduce the impact. With a dreadful bang their starboard bow slammed into our stern, three feet left of centre, shooting shards of broken fibreglass and gel-coating all over our cockpit. The only other boat for hundreds of miles around had rammed us! It was too dark and the sea too rough to safely check for external damage until morning light. One of the boats was obviously damaged but when daylight appeared we were relieved to see that our damage was slight. Meanwhile the other vessel had long disappeared over the horizon never to contact us again. An accident may be excusable, but to abandon the innocent party and thereafter fail to contact them by radio, not being sure they are undamaged, is unforgivable. We later learned that there was damage to their starboard hull.
As we approached the island of Fernando de Naronah, sailing across a brightunruffled sea, a mournful, lamenting sound, haunting and sombre, broke the silence, signalling the presence of five enormous humpback whales surfacing around us, grey and glistening – like huge sea elephants. Two of the whales ahead began crossing our path, causing us to quickly change course to avoid them. Another two whales burst through the surface at our port side, gleaming and monstrous in the sunshine. They immediately and aggressively began bumping our bows, pushing us around! Suddenly, a fifth whale surfaced directly below us, between our hulls. With a great whooshing sound it ejected a cloud of fetid, stinking vapour from its blowhole through our foredeck trampoline, which washed over us polluting the air with its odorous smell. We were mortified realizing we were riding on the back of a whale, its head between our two hulls with its tail thrashing behind us. It was an alarming, nerve-racking experience, with the distinct feeling that we were being raised above the surface!
After five days we commenced the 300-mile sail to Fortaleza on the mainland of Brazil. It was a miserable, rainy day as we departed Fernando de Naronah and we were pleased that it was to be only a three-night sail; talk about the grand slam! Undulating waves crested at incredible heights, plummeting down into valleys, regularly breaking over the boat. Constant rain, whipped by the troubled wind that had sprung up, was falling heavily like lead. Large thunderheads were forming, erasing any glimmer of sun from the sky. We wore foulweather clothing all the way. The nights seemed endless; any ocean crossing is a laborious affair. Even though I do my share of night watches, Bob doesn't sleep well on crossings. We could not believe the bravery and skill of the fishermen we saw on their miniscule craft, which are little more than flat, hollow, wooden platforms with rudimentary mast, sails and rudder. They battle the seas far out from land, seeming to fly across the surface of the water like tandem windsurfers.
At daybreak we sighted Brazil! Oh the joy and tear-filled eyes; finally we had crossed the South Atlantic Ocean!!! Quite an accomplishment for wrinklies with no previous sailing experience!
The Amazon River water from the rain forests surged over a hundred miles out to sea, carrying with it many floating logs which created a serious hazard for sailing vessels. Frequently we had to change course to avoid collisions. During night time we sailed on regardless with our fingers crossed! It was unbelievable how far out the fresh, green water of the Amazon River pushes into the ocean before it finally fuses with the blue, salt- water sea. There was a distinct, massive, confused line of water where the sullied green and blue waters meet. We followed this line of turbulence for 120 miles as we crossed the Amazon River mouth!
As dawn broke one morning we were appalled to find ourselves surrounded by thousand's of polystyrene floats from horizon to horizon marking sunken crayfish traps. What a disaster it would have been had we become entangled in them. Nearby, three commercial fishing craft were attending the traps. Suddenly one of them repeatedly and aggressively raced alongside of us, the crew gesticulating, demanding beers, cigarettes and money whilst trying to board us. I stayed hidden in the saloon as Bob manoeuvred Plane Sailing, avoiding their extended grappling-hooks, at the same time bombarding them with anything and everything that was near to hand. We lost a dozen beers this way! We felt exceedingly vulnerable! Bob spent the next few hours making petrol bombs and fastening long ropes together to trail from our stern, hopefully to entangle the propellers of any other unwelcome boats.
The long passage northwards to Trinidad was superb, with the cruising chute steadily pulling us along under a light breeze through the doldrums. The last night, before we reached Trinidad, we encountered a major storm with many black, towering thunder- heads surrounding us. We were at the helm the whole night ploughing into the surging swells; it was spookily quiet until the next bolt of lightening lit up the underside of the clouds followed by crashes of thunder. The sky was an ominous grey and we felt a foreboding thickening the air around us. We passed many oil rigs silhouetted on the skyline, with flames pouring out of their stacks lighting up the sky for miles.
While anchored at the island of Carriacou, where to our horror, a yacht anchored not fifty-feet away from us exploded and disintegrated in flames, belching thick, black smoke, which enveloped the wreckage and us. The explosion, sounding like a thunderclap, reverberated across the bay to be heard by our visiting daughters, who were ashore at the time. Looking seawards they saw Plane Sailing cloaked in smoke and seemingly enveloped in flames; they feared the worst. It was quite some time before they learned their parents were not involved in the disaster. Fortunately, the skipper of the yacht was catapulted overboard by the explosion and rescued unhurt by local fishermen. For hours afterwards the cloying stench of fuel and smoke contaminated the air as the yacht sank.
Within hours of our daughters' departure, the heavens opened and torrential rain poured unremittingly for two weeks. One night we experienced a tropical storm with 65 knot winds. In the anchorage there was pandemonium, with yachts dragging anchor and colliding. Radios were active throughout the whole night as boats tried to assist each other. We were lucky, being tucked into a cove in the bay, and spent a relatively quiet night.
Prior to our leaving Prickly Bay, a tugboat towing a barge full of building materials and equipment turned into the anchorage too sharply, causing excessive tension on the towing cable, which proved to be too much and the cable snapped. The barge's momentum caused it to plough ponderously through the anchored yachts. Skippers hastily dragged up anchors and scattered in all directions, whilst the tugboat raced alongside the barge desperately trying to push it out of harm's way. Unbelievably, no damage was done and with huge sighs of relief everyone re-anchored safely.
Leaving Bequia, on a ten-hour sail to St Lucia, once again tumultuous waves were breaking over the boat, but we were so thrilled to be sailing again. We wondered where the legendary smooth Caribbean seas were to be found. The sail was exhilarating, with Bob at the helm soaked through with a grin all over his face, like a mischievous kid, we were on our way to another adventure.
Early next morning we quietly departed, enjoying a bracing eight-hour sail to three stunning islands called the Saints. It was love at first sight, an absolutely blissful place with rolling hills and pathways threading their way over the hills, descending to pristine, white beaches. Waves rolled gently against the rocky shore. We felt we had been transported into a truly exotic paradise. There is only one small, impeccable village. It is sparklingly clean and picture-book perfect with red roofs and a handful of beautifully maintained, older Caribbean-style buildings; all balconies and gingerbread, windows turning golden in the afternoon sun. Blooming hibiscus is in abundance around the island, with the fragrance of frangipani filling the air. It is touristy and extremely French. he most popular form of transport is rented motorcycles; hundreds of them line the main thoroughfare. In the village the air is heady with the delicious aroma of coffee, oven-fresh baguettes, pate, pungent cheeses and other delicacies.
The bay we anchored in boasted an enchanting beach and a fascinating coral reef; we wallowed in our good fortune to find such a place. There are some splendid walks. We accidentally came upon a secluded, nude bathing beach where we saw some truly impressive locals! I watched entranced as a magnificent male version of Ursula Andress nonchalantly emerged from the surf, naked with snorkels on top of his head.
Anguilla was our next haven; the sky was heavy with the ungainly flight of squadrons of pelicans plummeting into the water to seize fish in their voluminous beaks, whilst numerous long white-tailed birds wheeled and swooped as they accompanied us during our sail. Throughout the Caribbean we have seen a huge variety of birds, booby birds', and frigate birds with their seven foot wingspan and deeply cleft tails. They tuck their wings against their bodies and dive as fast as bullets to catch unwary fish off the sea surface before ricocheting back into the sky. A highlight of Anguilla is a lovely reef where we snorkelled and swam with leatherback turtles.
We had been told to visit Prickly Pear Cays. Here the coral reefs are even more impressive and snorkelling exceptional with a profusion of coloured fish of every species; it is a secluded paradise. I particularly thought so when a gorgeous young man, snorkelling from a nearby boat, boarded our catamaran by mistake. Much to his embarrassment he was confronted by two topless ladies. He spluttered out his apologies as we told him he had twentyfour hours to get off our boat.
On a deserted island we anchored in Dead Man's Bay where we discovered a dozen or so old graves. It was here that Captain Morgan had abandoned part of his crew, leaving them without water and with only one cutlass with which they eventually killed each other during arguments. Daring ourselves, we slept in this forsaken bay on the boat trampoline telling ghost stories. It was eerie with the white moon spilling across the sea, dappling the water and moonbeams striking through the coconut palms; the stars seemed close enough to touch.
At last we were sailing again, but our delight was short lived. By morning there was a storm bringing rumbustious winds and an enormous swell straight onto our beam, with waves continuously foaming over the trampoline. The next two days were a living hell: a deluge of torrential, lashing rain cannoning into us, sheets of sullied dirty grey water cascading over the boat; the hulls seemed to be plunging into the trough between waves, like a bottomless pit, and then lifted up again at the last second. The tension was palpable knowing the sudden treachery of the elements; it was enough to put a lot of people off sailing! The sullen sky was hanging low, dulling the colour of the uneasy sea, tinting it a leaden grey. During this time, Bob restricted me to the cabin whilst he harnessed himself to the helm for the rest of the passage. The ferocity of the storm was intensifying, the wind whining and moaning in the rigging as Plane Sailing fled before it with Bob battling the raging seas and increasing winds causing foaming whitecaps to loom in a steady succession. We were in near disastrous conditions; it was a harrowing situation realising the enormity of our survival! With the gale howling and waves breaking over us we limped gratefully into Rodney Bay, St Lucia, overwhelmed with relief to be undamaged and unharmed. The forthcoming sail into the Atlantic from St Lucia to Barbados was a discouraging prospect and we were not happy to set out sailing again.
We were sleeping peacefully on board our boat when loud, drunken shouting and singing awakened us. Looking out of our cabin window we saw a man in a tiny wooden dinghy called Rocking Horse, hanging onto our stern trying to look through our cabin window.
Hurrying outside we asked him what he wanted, telling him to go away.
Many people were out on their decks shining powerful lights at him. Moving away he hurled a smoke bomb between the hulls of the catamaran next to us. Now there was pandemonium in the anchorage. Rowing off to his wreck of a boat he brought his own flashlight out and retaliated by shining it back at everyone else. Sailing to Grenada the next day we heard that someone had reported him to the authorities. Since they had previously had many similar problems with him, they, in turn, decided he had caused trouble for the last time and he was evicted from Carriacou, where he had been an illegal resident on board his derelict boat for twenty years.
Grenada, which according to the meteorological experts is in a hurricane-free zone, was to be our hurricane hideaway hole for the season; we anticipated being there for some months until the danger of hurricanes in the Caribbean had passed.
After a few weeks, with so many of our friends leaving for Venezuela despite its dreadful reputation for acts of piracy, we decided to take the plunge. What a fortunate decision that was, because shortly after we left, Grenada was devastated by hurricane Ivan! A tropical storm can spread to a radius of a hundred kilometres its eye can move at a speed of thirty to forty kilometres an hour and its direction could change. Making an expeditious decision we sailed eighty- miles, retracing our route back to Laguna Grande where we anticipated we would get the best protection. Three boats were in the bay of our choice. Lashing our sails down and deploying three anchors we hoped to be ready for the onslaught. Hurricane Ivan was forecast to strike our area about eleven o'clock that night, expecting to be awake most of the night we retired early. Awakening only next morning at seven o'clock we rushed outside; it was so unbelievably tranquil, the water seemed like pounded copper, the exceptionally translucent reflections of the green, gold and russet hills in the still water were beyond belief. Protected by the mountain-ranges we had slept undisturbed throughout the hurricane!
Grenada is a region where freak storms don't happen but had been in the path of the full force of the hurricane and was almost demolished with the high, capricious winds leaving hundreds of yachts severely damaged or destroyed.THE PACIFIC
One day we caught a handsome sailfish with dark blue dorsal fins. It was a fish of great strength and fighting spirit as it came hurtling out of the sea in all its spectacular glory, skidding across the surface in a flurry of foam towards the boat. It was a major fight, seeming to take an eternity, to reel him in before his heart was broken and we gazed in wonder at the glorious creature we had killed. We were overwhelmed with emotions of victory, guilt and elation. Many times we heard the poignant, plaintive cry of whales and watched them spy hopping and breaching in the distance. It was blissful sitting at the helm, the enormous, languishing swells pushing us forward with the soft air flowing over us listening to the ocean's timeless rhythms making us feel transcendentally alive.
Fatu Hiva was the most incredibly stunning island I had ever seen, lush jungle prevailed. Precipitous cliffs pounded by heavy surf fringed the whole island. We entered the anchorage through a cleft between rocky spires at the head of the bay. On either side and beyond were green cloaked, steep-sided mountains creating magical views, with the sea colour changing from azure to opal to silver grey. The bay was enclosed by imposing pinnacles of rock warranting it the name, Bay of Phallus because of the shape of the rocky pillars. Absolutely superb! The distant mountains were a shark's tooth silhouette of cliffs.
Snorkelling to clean the bottom of our boat is a frequent and arduous chore, but necessary! Our hulls were badly marked after the gruelling sail across the Pacific, with stains, baked by the sun, for a foot above the waterline, a growth of barnacles and a forest of weed on our rudders, propellers and keels. It took two days of physical exertion to get the hulls shipshape.
Reluctantly we said goodbye to the Marquises and began an exhilarating 600 mile sail to The Dangerous Archipelago known as the Tuamotu Atolls. After voraciously scanning the horizon the first sighting was of palm trees waving in the breeze. This uninhabited region is a 1,000 mile chain of seventy low-lying islands, protuberances of reef rising above the sea are known as cays, some of which are a profusion of ancient, almost submerged volcanic peaks. Others are flat atolls enclosing a ring shaped lagoon, a polished silver mirror of astoundingly clear, calm water with vibrant coral abounding with exquisite sea life below the unsullied blue sky. Diving is terrific at the passes entering into the atolls, an underwater wonder-world. Enclosing the lagoons are many flat miniature islets with unspoiled sandy beaches, where hushed winds rustle through coconut palms. The atolls symbolize the cruising sailor's dream; as close to heaven as you will find. The whole area, when bathed in moonlight, is idyllic, and as a bonus the region is only accessible to yachts! Aircraft, merchant ships and cruise liners do not pass this way.
After six-weeks in one place, even though we were reluctant to leave this unique location, when we sailed away our spirits were raised. We felt energetic and rejuvenated, with the sunlight streaming down, intoxicated by the embracing, tangy smell of the sea as the wind blew us on our way across an ocean glittering with the reflected bright blue of the sky. This life on the ocean waves is great!
Tahiti next, and to our joy we learned that our daughters and their husbands were to join us in French Polynesia. Everything was fantastic until a catastrophe occurred. Bob was knocked down as he crossed in front of a stationary car, which suddenly jerked forward, hitting him and knocking him into the road. The car stopped, with Bob lying in the road in front of it, and then, unbelievably, it was driven forward again over both his legs just above his ankles. Immediately we were surrounded by a surging crowd of sympathetic people all shouting in French. It was pandemonium! Like magic, an ambulance appeared and Bob was rushed off to the hospital for x-rays. It was barely credible that he had no broken bones; legs of steel obviously!
We anchored in a mini-amphitheatre with outstanding deep-green forested mountains surrounding the bay. It was an ecstatic, mesmerising experience swimming with a school of stingrays, three feet wide across the wings and extremely long tails. These critters swim up your body reaching for the morsels of fish that we held in our hand, they had no teeth but a strong sucking system of eating. Their skin felt like suede and they had long tails. Unfortunately there were also a dozen or more intimidating, black-tipped sharks swimming amongst them. Can you believe we actually swam with dozens of sharks?
Arriving at the island of Palmerston with the colours in the water shifting as the clouds moved through the sunlight a native came alongside in a small boat, directing us to a favourable place to anchor in deep water outside the reef. He announced that he and his family had watched our approach to their island and elected themselves to be our hosts, saying that he would later transfer us from our catamaran to the shore to enjoy a mid-day feast. Each of the six yachts at anchor was adopted by a different island family for the duration of their visit.
The Kingdom of Tonga was, perhaps, one of the most picturesque groups of islands; it comprised of 170 coral and volcanic islands, thirty-six of which were inhabited. The first group was the archipelago of Vavau, a dazzling cluster of waterways with flawless, barely inhabited islets. The islands were thickly wooded with palms lining white scalloped beaches or steep rocky buffs. Vavau was the principle cruising centre of Tonga.
We spent a few hours provisioning before sailing to a group of smaller islands. We had the most awesome experience when we swam with massive humpback whales, a mother and baby; it was absolutely classic, wholly beyond belief! We swam together within twenty feet of these whales, swimming and snorkelling under the water with them for about two hours. They are gargantuan creatures; which awed and enthralled us; it was a privilege to be in the world of these gentle giants! It was apparent that we did not alarm them in the slightest. They were impervious to us; in fact I would say they were enjoying our close proximity. I could envisage mother whale saying to baby whale, 'Today I will take you to see the humans!' We were tremendously impressed!THE CRUEL SEA
Three days' sailing short of our destination, Brisbane, we heard radio warnings of approaching storms and immense seas. This seemed oddly off- kilter to me with Plane Sailing in seas smooth as glass mirroring the sky. The ocean stretched ahead in variegated bands of blue, from crystalline turquoise to deepest cobalt, and the water was surprisingly shimmering, as if diamonds had been scattered across the surface. It was forever etched on our minds! Bob, with his years of flying experience knew this was the harbinger of a change in the weather and he remarked, 'This is the lull before the storm!' as we watched the bank of clouds on the horizon, which portended bad weather. I was jolted out of my blissful reverie to prepare for the inevitable. While the weather was calm we set about the task of securing the boat.
The following day the sea ruffled as the weather changed, deteriorating rapidly as white caps thudded against the hulls. Suddenly we were struck by driving rain and the brutal impact of gale-force winds at close to forty-five knots. It was phenomenal, but we were prepared. The storm increased; the sea wild with twenty foot waves and a lashing, shrieking wind gusting at sixty-five knots, thrashing the sea to a pounding maelstrom. The entire night we hunkered in the saloon, fraught with uncertainty, as a continuous horrific electrical storm split the black sky. The hammering of waves beneath our hulls, driven by demonic rising eighty-knot winds, was causing us to feel a chilling dread. Thunder reverberated from horizon to horizon whilst fearful bolts of lightening tore through the clouds, illuminating the sky and striking the churning seas. Come daylight the monster seas continued battering us. The storm was in full fury, the angry wind chasing the waves, whipping the rain in circles. The port hull rode the crest of each swell before sliding sideways into the trough between the waves. There was excessive turbulence as the ferocity of the elements rained its terror upon us. All that could be seen was the swelling, smashing, foam- crested black walls of water as far as the invisible dark horizon.
We decided it would be prudent to change course, abandoning Brisbane as our destination. Making the decision to run with the wind and seas behind us seemed a good idea, going northwards along the Australian coast a further 170 nautical miles to the coastal town of Bundaberg. The weather became even worse. Wicked, black squalls stalked us and the atmospheric propagation was so bad we could get no response on the radio. We hadn't seen another boat during the previous thousand miles. The storm continued throughout the second day, waves crashing and breaking at twenty-seven feet and the wind between seventy-five to eighty knots. Surfing at twentytwo knots down the waves was like shooting the rapids! We were trapped in a raging vortex and had a feeling of impending disaster.
Trailing warps, (long ropes with full water containers attached), we attempted to decrease our speed. It worked well, reducing our speed to ten knots with the result that we began to feel more comfortable. Our main concern was that no one knew our position; we suffered a sense of inescapable isolation, the last we'd told anyone on the radio was that we were en-route to Brisbane Australia. For three days we wore foul weather gear and lifejackets, tension suffused us. As a precaution we put our passports, boat papers and valuables in the watertight flares container along with our emergency grab-bag and a five gallon container of fresh water, all of which we secured to the cockpit. If we capsized we planned to stay with the catamaran clipped onto ropes attached across the stern. We didn't fancy our chances in our little six man life raft in those seas! The life raft, made of lightweight material, would very likely skip across the ocean at near supersonic speeds in the windstorm!
Defeated by the enormity of the problem we transmitted a PAN emergency call on the SSB radio but there was no response. We tried a second time – nothing! At first we felt despondent until half-an- hour later we were ecstatic when, to our utter delighted disbelief, an aircraft appeared low overhead transmitting to us on the radio. What a tremendous relief! The coastguard aircraft pilot requested information on the status of Plane Sailing and crew. He assured us they would continue to monitor our position until we were safely in port. Still feeling vulnerable, this bolstered our confidence. Was this to be our kismet? Waves continued to smash into our cockpit over the stern and beam, flooding through the closed saloon door, causing automatic bilge pumps to operate and us to bale constantly. I could not deem possible the intangible menace of the forces of nature. In the midst of this crisis we suddenly realized the cockpit was empty.
Everything including the flare container with our passports in it had been washed overboard. Clipped on to the safety line we went outside to confirm that everything was gone! We couldn't believe it. What a disaster! The leaden sky was pitch black; consequently we rigged a powerful light and shone it over the stern where, unbelievably, the buoyant flare container was happily bouncing from wave to wave sixty-feet behind us on the end of the rope. What Luck! This was a rough passage and definitely the longest three-nights and days of our lives, but our gallant Plane Sailing had prevailed. Finally, to our eternal relief, we entered Bundaberg bay. Ephemerally in the surrounding haze, out of the enfolding ocean, I believe I saw a mirage far out at sea, a trident held aloft and crown rising above the heaving swells. Could it be that I saw the whimsical face of Neptune giving us a reluctant nod of approval as he raised his trident with great flourish in a mock salute to mortals he had befriended for a while.
Surprisingly, during our ordeal we had remained calm and methodical, focusing only on the practicalities of the situation – obviously concerned – but we had not panicked. On the third day we crossed into a bay about 200 nautical miles north of our original destination and found shelter in an Australian town called Bundaberg.
Every year increasing numbers of yachts depart from their home shores to travel around the world, looking for the freedom to go where they want and the camaraderie of like-minded people. They sail, often seeking freedom as well as a period of respite from world chaos. Sadly, the majority of cruisers quickly become disenchanted when their dream perception of placid seas, balmy breezes and swaying palm trees is shattered by the harsh reality of dangerous ocean crossings with capricious seas. The sea commands respect, and the few who confront the challenges and prevail are an exceptional breed and most of them will concur that the rewards of such epic accomplishments are eternal in every respect.
Our challenge ahead was to cross the Indian Ocean, sailing into the Red Sea and onwards to the Mediterranean, but sadly there were daily news reports of a volatile situation, with armed pirate attacks taking place along that route, creating a harrowing conundrum. This situation had intensified and became more sophisticated being orchestrated and controlled by the Somalian war lords who reaped high ransom money estimated at millions. These pirates were not the characters from our childhood storybooks with a patch on one eye, parrot on their shoulder and peg leg! These were a modern deadly version, dirty, filthy, rat-tailed individuals with speedboats and omnipresent AK-47s.
Decisions! Decisions! How should we decide? We could not afford to run the gauntlet of a danger zone, our safety and survival and that of other cruising yachts hoping to cross these seas may lie in military action against these flagrant pirates. We were facing the Rubicon – could we depend on the cavalry!