Sorry for the long silence.
I have been offline for weeks. I sent the last update to Dawn by satellite phone when we arrived in Easter Island, but text only, Dawn improvised some images.
So now Dawn is back on board, we have all arrived in Tahiti, internet is firing, we will now post the blog updates that were written over the last month or so.
(We have also added the missing photos to that last post https://escapadesailing.com/2018/05/23/galapagos-to-easter-island/.)
Starting with this harrowing tale, when Jemima and I had just arrived in Easter Island..
Easter Island 20th May
Fouled anchor, rocky lee shore, surf pounding, wind rising, no windlass.
Well we do have a windlass, but it’s not where it ought to be.
Usually we look forward to a landfall at the end of a long passage, a chance to rest up, catch up on sleep, stretch your legs, and relax at anchor for a few days.
Easter Island at this time of year is a bit different. Trying to be anchored anywhere here is far more stressful than being at sea!
The island is a speck in the middle of the Pacific, and while Dawn is basking in the sunny Guernsey springtime, winter is fast approaching down here. Deep low pressure systems come spinning along the roaring forties and we feel the effects as they pass. Big swells and the wind clocking round, blowing from a different direction every few hours.
The island is the top of a large volcano and almost all her shores are steep dark cliffs with waves smashing away, continuing the erosion of millennia.
There are a handful of possible anchorages, but usually only one option for the weather of any given moment. So we have to be very aware of what’s coming next and be ready to move to a different spot at any time. Then there’s the depth. In the Caribbean we would regularly anchor in one or two metres of water, here 20 metres is normal. Any closer in and you could be picked up by a breaking wave! I don’t like that, it’s too deep for me to go down and check the holding, or sort out any foul hooking.
So our first refuge was Hotu Iti, with it’s breathtaking surf scenery and dark stone statues lining the shore. After our first night at anchor we woke facing the open sea, the wind had switched direction in the night and was now building from the south. Time to look for shelter on the north shore. There is one other yacht here, the Lady Mary with a Russian family living on board. She’s a well-travelled looking ketch. Andrey came by in the dinghy with his 7 year old daughter, to welcome us and throw us a coconut. He has been here for a week already, after a 21 day passage from Galapagos. I tell him him my plan and he advises on the next anchorage.
So off we go, up with the hook. We haul up about 5 metres of chain and it stops dead. Strange. Try again, win a bit more chain, then it won’t budge. Chain runs back out under load. We motor slowly to where we think the anchor is, to break it out. We seem to be stuck. I engage the lock on the windlass to stop the chain running off again while we think about it. A large swell arrives, lifting the boat as it passes. There is a tremendous bang and rattling of chain. Jemima says “It’s broken”.
I go to the foredeck and cannot believe the carnage. The massive windlass has pulled it’s mountings through the deck and flown forward in a shower of splintered fibreglass. Loose wiring hangs from the wreckage and the weight of the boat on the chain is now pulling the windlass along the deck and off the boat. I unlock it and slacken the gypsy with a winch handle, chain runs out and we re-attach the bridle. We’re safe again for a moment.
Actually we’re both in shock! This looks serious. How will we get that hook up now? The SW wind is building and we need to leave. The hook seems to be stuck fast on something. We can’t contact anyone on VHF from this remote spot on the wrong side of the volcano. I propose we let all the rode go, buoy the bitter-end and sail to Hanga Roa to find a diver who could come and retrieve it for us. I could rig the spare anchor, but could we ever get it up again without a windlass? In these deep waters with wind tugging at the boat? Should we go to sea and come back for it when the weather relents? Leave it there and sail to Tahiti to buy a new anchor?
It happens to be Sunday morning, so while we are pondering our position, Jemima whips up a batch of banana pancakes. Well you have to eat.
She also suggests that our new Russian friend may have scuba gear on board. “He looks the type”.
Well breakfasted, I return to the wreckage and tidy up a bit. The windlass is (was) attached to the deck with four big studs which are now a bit bent. I remove the nuts and what’s left of the backing plates and lift it back into position. There is a large wood pad laminated into the deck for the windlass to sit on and the wood seems to have rotted, so when it ripped out there was actually not too much damage. I think I could knock up some beefy new backing plates and bolt it back in.
Then there’s the dangling electrics, four wires have been yanked right out of their connections in a junction box below the windlass. I’m sure I could re-connect, but there are four different colour wires on each end and no clue which attaches to which. I am crammed into the chain locker, trying to work it out, when I happen to turn over the cover of the junction box. Inside is a hand-written message from the Outremer technician who installed it: “RED = UP, BLUE = DOWN”. Merci beaucoup!
The other two wires must be for the chain counter, which we can live without.
Ten minutes later the windlass is working again! Now we just need those re-inforcements to fix it back to the boat. I am eyeing up a wooden chopping board.
Andrey comes back with both of his daughters and I show him my project. Within moments he is back from Lady Mary with a big chunk of marine ply and 10mm drill bits.
Best of all, he DOES have scuba gear and will dive to see what the problem is with the anchor.
Remember this is the only other sailing boat within thousands of miles! We are so grateful to our new neighbours.
Jemima wriggles in to the locker and cuts paper templates. I spend a few hours sawing and drilling plywood pads, then screw it all back together with big penny washers under the nuts. We carefully hoist a foot of chain. Seems fine. We’re back in business.
Andrey pulls on his scuba gear and soon reports that our change of direction in the night has wrapped the chain right around a huge old coral head, so we are effectively chained to a 4 metre high pillar of rock. That would do it!
Now we begin the waltz around the bay, Jemima dropping slack chain and taking up, with directions from Andrey in the water, his wife Marina and daughters handling a line around the anchor, all in the freshening wind. Finally the chain and hook is all back on deck, the new windlass installation passed its first test. I’m not sure how we would have managed without our Russian friends. They dinghy back to the Lady Mary. Marina has made a borscht for their dinner. We supply them with a bottle of wine.
We motor round to the north shore to find our new spot for the night. A race against darkness! The sun has set, we can just see a sandy patch and drop the anchor in 7 metres of clear water in the last glimmer of dusk.
What a day.
As Dawn left us in Galapagos, her parting words were “Don’t break anything!”.
So far we have put a 20 foot rip in our only jib and yanked the windlass clean out of the deck.
She’s not even been gone two weeks!
Still 2,300 miles to Tahiti…
Holy holy holy! Glad you are safe and resourceful!
Brilliant! Way better than my current book! Well done and God Bless the Russians! See you soon xxx
Great story,great result! I absolutely dread fouling my anchor……. best wishes to all. We are in Ile d’Yeu at moment, which is lovely. R
Sent from my iYacht
Wow…… what a story! So glad it all worked out happily. What amazing luck to have the Russian family there and what extraordinary people they must be!
Whew!……. exhausting! Onwards to Tahiti. x
JP you never stop to amaze with your practical skills & resourcefulness! Life onboard is never boring on Escapade. Be safe and look forward to next the chapter
Fair winds my friend!
Glad you are safe! I read your blog out loud to Bob. We were on the edge of our seats! Hope you have a little less excitement ahead…
I was in process of purging some tools & spares. Your story reminds me to do so very thoughtfully.