Coming in hot and having a plan

Well we just had our first real near miss! We came within inches (well maybe feet) of going aground on a reef. How did this happen? What did we learn? Well here is the story from he day before Easter.

We had just spent a couple of nights at our favorite anchorage free diving and spearfishing. The anchorage was rolly as a western swell had been building and winds, though light, were coming out of the north. This means that the winds aligned us broadside to the waves which results in the boat rocking. The wind prediction software that we use forecast that the wind was going to pick up to 25-30 knots and change direction which would not be favorable for this anchorage. So we decided to leave, right after one more dive! We like to get our ceviche in the fridge while on passage so we have it to eat when we arrive at our destination. We got our fish, cleaned up the boat, and got underway.

We had almost no wind when we started our passage, so we motored. Without wind it was absolutely sweltering on the boat. We were all sweating like crazy. Luckily for me, Brian accidentally dropped a bin full of plastic clothes pins overboard. This meant that I got to do a little swimming. As we turned the boat around, I jumped in the water and grabbed the bin to ensure we are not contributing to the ocean plastic issues here in Fiji. Brian circled back around to pick me up and I was glad that we dd not have sails us as this allowed us more maneuverability and a quick pick up for me. We started to see the clouds forming all around us turn into rain showers visible from a distance. The weather was very unsettled and throughout the day, the winds were building as predicted. Unfortunately for our ability to sail, the winds were almost consistently on the nose. We tried a few different sail configurations to no avail and then decided to call it quits and just accept our fate to motor. We motored for about 6 hours and were approaching our anchorage as the sun was setting. We had done this passage before and had tracks to follow in our navigation software so we were not worried about the 25 knot winds as we entered a narrow reef passage as dusk. We arrived in the mooring field with very little light and as we went to our usual front of the pack mooring ball, the mooring manager was gesturing to us from his boat. With the high winds and engine on we could not hear him, so we motored a little closer. He said that we should pick another mooring ball as the one we were going to grab was not that strong. OK, we will grab the one in the back, closest to the reef, so we can dive right off the boat.

This mooring field is surrounded by shallow reef that is dry during a low tide. As we approached our mooring at the rear of the mooring field closest to the reef, I sat on the bow with boat hook ready and lines neat and ready to deploy. I communicated to Brian that I was ready on the Starboard side of the boat to give favor to the winds. As we approached, we missed the ball by quite a bit so I waited for Brian to correct. That is when he called to me, "be ready with the anchor, the transmission is not engaging". Shit! OK, stay cool. We communicated about the depth, distance to reef, and the plan. Brian came forward to drop the anchor and I went to the helm to steer and monitor our depth.  I called 30 feet, 18 feet, I heard the anchor splash, 12 feet, still moving back, 6 feet, set. I went forward and told Brian that we were too shallow, asked about how much chain we had out and we decided to use the windlass to pull us forward a bit. Once set we were in 12 feet of water which is shallow but comfortable for out 7 feet of draft. 

The boat next to us was listening and watching and asked if they could call for a boat assist and I said, yes please as we had our hands full. By the time the two cruisers approached us we had our hook firmly set in the sand as we were not moving. We were no longer in immediate danger. The other cruisers used their boats to help us stretch two lines to out mooring ball which was now about 150 feet away. Once the lines were secured to the ball, we pulled our boat to the mooring ball with the help of another cruiser. We tied off to the ball and were now secure for the night.

The first thing Easter morning, Brian got to work hanging upside down in the engine compartment looking at the transmission. He tinkered away for about an hour before seeing the problem. There were three sheared bolts on one of the transmission plates. With the bolts sheared the engine can not turn the prop shaft. Thus no forward or reverse. Brian got to work replacing the bolts and checking various other parts of the transmission to make sure everything was in place and tight. I was once again grateful that Brian is such a handy mechanic.

Beyond the actual fix we learned that it is good to have a plan. Brian and I are always asking each other, "What you would you do right now if the engine quit?" or other "What would you do if" scenarios. More often than not the answer is drop the anchor, so we have mentally rehearsed this several times. We kept our cool, implemented a smooth deployment of the anchor, and communicated clearly with each other. Some things that we could have been better at include having a handheld radio at the helm and checking the transmission as we enter a pinch point like we did. Overall I think we did a good job coming in hot and having a plan.


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