Prelude: This post is out of sequence. I want to write it while fresh in my mind. As I add the offshore posts I will date them correctly but post in front of this before correcting the dates.
We arrived in Fiji. The GRIB’s showed off shore winds in the 20-30 kt range and we were happy to be here and anchored in Suva. We arrived in the am and by early afternoon we had received 5 individuals to formally complete the paper work. They were, Health, Biosecuirty, Immigration, Yacht Club launch driver, and what seemed like two trainees. All were very professional and all went well.
Second Wind offered to dinghy me to shore. I bought a small amount of petrol for our dinghy engine and disposed of our garbage. Very little of our trash is tossed overboard and we avoid carrying gasoline on passages. Gasoline is highly flammable and it’s one less safety item to worry about . While in harbors or day sailing we store it in proper plastic fuel containers on the aft deck.
Late afternoon we spent some time with Second Wind. We talked about the passage and discussing Fijian formalities. We talked about our trip around Fiji and what we were going. On our list is attending the wedding of friends, massages at our beloved Una, Kakonda (the best in Fiji) at Surf and Turf in Savu Savu, and completing the varnish.
Some of that has now changed.
We heard some thunder off shore and the breeze had increased a bit. Art from Second Wind returned us to Elysium. W/ was concerned about being to close to the super yacht Encore and with her provications and my acquiescence, we moved deeper into the harbor away from the super yacht. We were also in shallower water which improves our anchor scope. We moved, we got settled in for the evening and then the winds picked up.
And the winds increased more than we expected. It was later revealed to us that even Fiji Meteorological services missed this weather event. (A discussion on the event from an Aussie Meteorologists perspective) W/ wanted to pull down the forward awning. Up we went to the bow and removed it all the while the winds kept increasing.
I began to untie the bow lines and W/ untied one of the side lines of the forward awning. At that time a gust picked up that side of the awning and knocked W/ on her derriere. Luckily she wasn’t hurt and came forward to assist on removing the awning. As we completed the removal I looked out and a 120’ steel ferry (Princess Civa) was being blown sideways by the wind heading
right for us. My eyes lit up and a rush of adrenaline surged through me.
Scooping the awning up (no folding now) I dumped it in the cockpit and told W/ to start the engine. While she started the engine I went forward to deal with the anchor. The side of the ship was closing in. For a few seconds I thought the ship would slide off to our stern. It appeared that the stern was moving past us and we would escape in front of it. I let the anchor pendent go and W/ was now powering forward to clear the bow of the steel vessel. I am worried and scared. I saw that I needed our anchor and chain go. I let it go! The chain was flying over the pawls. I had a light safety line on the end of the chain so I would loose it to the bottom. The safety line I had attached blew apart when it reached the bitter end. The anchor and chain were gone taking with it two of the teak slats on the bowsprit. We were free from the bottom but the 150’ by 20’ side of the steel boat was now only meters away. I looked behind as the Princess Civa slammed into the bow of Sahula.
Sahula was another steel sailboat and we heard a huge bang. Seconds later the steel boat collided with us. We were about 30 degrees from perpendicular. First mv Princess Civa hit our bow pulpit bending it then collided with the bow sprit turning us immediately sideways. Next our hull was bouncing on the side of the steel motor vessel. We were now side on being pushed towards the shallows. But; we are still moving forward and I screamed above the wind noise to W/ to keep us going forward as fast as possible. We slid along the
steel hull ruining our brand new paint job. But; we were saving our boat and ourselves. As we slid along the side of the steel boat our rigging came in to contact with parts of the steel hull and sparks were flying off. I was concerned that if something sticking out of the ship was secured enough our rigging could catch and pull the mast down. 55’ of Aluminum crashing down on us was nothing we needed right now. Not now! Not ever!
Seconds later we cleared the bow of the steel boat. We were lucky they didn’t have a bulbous bow sticking forward underwater that we could run into. We were clear of the worst and now dealing with the winds, waves, and unlit obstructions in the harbor.
Attempting to motor into 40 kt winds with gusts of 60 and waves washing over the bow and me, is not an adventure I would wish on anyone. We motored by super yacht Encore who had blown aground by a shallows marker. They had their 800+ hp diesel running in full reverse throwing up water all around and screamed at us to “STAY THE FUCK AWAY’! No duh! Like that was our goal to hang out by them. W/ kept trying to keep our bow pointing in the wind but it would blow off to one side and then the other sometimes pushing her to gybe to gain steerage and the ability to make way. We kept seeing that shallows marker slide by the stern of the boat and we were spending too much time in the same place all the while feeling like we were going forward. I wanted to anchor and W/ wanted to power into the wind until the storm abated. Not knowing how long it would be and fearing that we didn’t have the energy (not accounting for the adrenaline) I wanted to anchor. We tried once to anchor once. I got our secondary anchor to the bottom and we settled down … for a few minutes.
I can’t believe when I see a cursing yacht with only one anchors on the bow. Our primary anchor is a Spade 80 with 300’ of 3/8” HT chain. Our secondary anchor is a 60 lb CQR with 130’ of 3/8” HT chain and 200’ of 3/4” braid on braid line. We were anchored in about 40’ of water and I put out roughly 200 feet of rode.
Our position on the chart plotter didn’t hold. It is still blowing the hair off a dog. I leave the protection of the dodger, W/ takes the helm and I begin the process of retrieving the anchor. 10 minutes later we have it up out of the water and we’re moving again. Not always in a good way. Our new arch and solar was only seconds from being destroyed. I’m trying to watch
the big picture and W/ is manning the helm. Above the wind I yell “FORWARD AS FAST AS WE CAN”. I see the marker pass feet from our stern. We motor into the wind into deeper water. We pass the bow of another steel vessel anchored and go up wind of Pebbles (the only yacht in our group not effected by the steel ship) We drop the anchor again. After paying out the 200’ of rode I’m afraid we are too close to Pebbles. We watch for a few minutes and I try to gain some rest. In this break from working W/ digs out my foul wx pants. I’m cold. I’m beginning to shiver. Adrenaline is keeping me going. W/ has a moment of being overwhelmed by emotion and starts shaking and crying. We’re safe. I hug her and we’re both thankful that we’re both here and alive; thankful Elysium on the bottom of the bay under the steel hull or pushed way up on the reef. Ten minutes later we decide that we are too close to Pebbles and pick up the anchor again. We’re both frightened enough to keep going.
I have a spot picked out on the charting program we use and we work our way up to it. There I anchor again. We fall back on the anchor, the line stretches and it holds. We begin to swing to the wind. I hide from the wind and rain behind the dodger and watch our track on the electronic chart. Ten minutes or thirty minutes later W/ shuts down the engine. Time hasn’t much meaning here. We go below. I bring up another program on a different device to watch our anchor position. I have two programs running. I watch our track on iSailor and we are filling in an Etch A Sketch area. We are staying in place.
Now almost 4 hours after it all began it appears the winds and seas are slowly abating. The gusts are not coming as frequently nor is the song the rigging is making as high pitched. We seek some solace in the land of dreams. Electrons screaming through our electronics are keeping watch. We sleep the needed sleep from a passage but the uneasy sleep from a night of horrors. Tomorrow we we see the damage not just of us but of our friends who we believe ended up in the shallows on the reef.