Salad Days meets Whale Rock and other accidents
Jun 16, 2009
|CRUNCH, thud! Salad Days comes to a sudden and grinding stop, and I’m thrown back onto the seat at the navigation table. In half a second flat I’m out of the cabin to see Salad Days somewhat elevated at the bows and low in the water at the stern; as if pleading to the Gods to rid her of these incompetent sailors who have forced her into the wrong place. A sickening knot is tightening in the pit of my stomach. What the hell has happened?
This is not a case of an impressive headline along the lines of “Yacht founders on uncharted reef”, or “Yacht sunk by submerged sea container”. Just a cut and dried case of human navigational errors. We have hit Whale Rock, a well charted rock shown on the charts as drying at low spring tides.
We had hauled up the anchor at Main Beach Trimouille Island in the Montebellos at around 5am, bound for Dampier via Sholl Island and Cape Preston. The reason for the early start is to get both wind and tide in our favour for the narrow passage we must exit between Dot and Daisy Islands. Although the wind is on the nose, it is very light and is not a hindrance, making the passage an easy one.
Once out of the passage, Murray selects the next waypoint on the GPS, and instantly sees that it is wrong. I check the co-ordinates on the charts, write down the correct ones and make the alterations in the GPS. We have already committed Mistake No. 1 – we don’t have the right “systems” in place. I say to Murray that from now on, one person does the chart navigation and the other must check them and also check them in the GPS to avoid errors, which could be dangerous; as we are about to find out. Then we commit Mistake No. 2. Having fixed the waypoint in the GPS, I hit the “Goto Waypoint” button. In the time it has taken me to check co-ordinates and make the alterations in the GPS – only a few minutes – we are off course by about 4 degrees. In hitting the “Goto Waypoint” button, the GPS shows a straight line from where you are to the next waypoint, however the starting point is now incorrect. We’ve always said, that if off course, we are not to do that – the current position should be taken, plotted and a new course calculated. This particular morning we have ignored our own counsel. And the result is that the straight line from where we are to where we want to go, puts us directly over Whale Rock….at low tide.
So about 10 minutes after fixing the co-ordinates in the GPS, with the moon low on the western horizon, cloud building up in the east, and the pre-dawn glow in the east yet to be discernable, the breeze very light and the seas flat, we do not notice anything untoward in the sea ahead. Murray is at the helm about to set the autopilot, and I have gone below to check something on the chart (I still have no idea what I went down to check) when, with a sickening thud, we sail straight into Whale Rock.
At first, the big girl appears to have her bows stuck on the rocks and with the stern floating, she is grinding around on those horrid rocks. That knot in my stomach is threatening to take over my whole body. I hit the “Man Overboard” button on the GPS so that we have the exact co-ordinates of the rock to be checked on the charts later. Never know, we might have discovered an uncharted reef – ha ha. We must get her off, so as quickly as I can, I fire up the outboard while Murray deals with the sails. In the meantime she floats off herself with the help of the current and the light breeze. Safely away from the rock and in deep water we must quickly assess the situation. Down below with torches, we are pulling up floorboards as fast as two panicked people can – checking for damage and water. None found so far. There is no sign of cracked paint or broken timber inside, however the forward port locker has some water in it (turns out that was from a leaking water drum – phew!). It is still too dark to see any underwater damage. The light breeze had certainly been in our favour as we were only doing 3 knots at the time of the collision. Had we been doing 6 knots, it could have been a completely different story to write – if I got to write it at all! Finally convinced that we are not sinking or about to perish, we make the decision to continue on our way.
A very pale looking Murray goes to bed, saying that he doesn’t want breakfast today, while I take over sailing our wounded girl towards Sholl Island. I’m feeling pretty awful myself – not that I was ever particularly concerned about us, it’s the pain and suffering caused to Salad Days through our own sheer incompetence that makes me feel so bad.
Boats are not just pieces of timber, metal, fiberglass and sail cloth put together so that they sail across the ocean, or just a home that happens to float – they have a whole character and personality of their own; almost human. One becomes quite attached to their vessel – you know how they respond to certain conditions, when they won’t behave, the wind and sea conditions that make them dance, and their antics while at anchor. You talk to them – kindly most of the time, but some days I will admit that the big girl does get called a few uncomplimentary names. So there is a certain attachment and feeling you develop towards your vessel, and today we have caused her much suffering, which in turn hurts us.
Alone at the wheel, my mind starts to play tricks – I imagine that she feels sluggish, and that she looks lower in the water than she should be. I try to be logical about it all and check the speed and performance given the current weather conditions. In the freshening breeze, Salad Days is actually skipping along at 6 knots with the wind on the nose, and the waves about 30 degrees off the wind – she seems to be enjoying herself! As the light increases, I go forward to peer over at the bows and see paint gouged off, chunks of fiberglass hanging off the bow and perhaps some exposed timber. I grimace. The poor girl. Can’t say I’d feel like skipping and dancing across the ocean with two broken noses and unknown other cuts and bruises on my underbelly.
By early afternoon we anchor at Sholl Island and Murray goes for a dive to check all the damage. Yes, there is paint and fiberglass off in three places, with a small amount of exposed timber – both bows and underneath the starboard hull. Nothing too serious at all. All the damage is on the very strong stems; nothing on the sides. Repairs can wait until we get to Dampier and put her up on a beach. I still don’t sleep very well – wondering how the big girl is coping with those wounds.
The alarm is set for a dawn departure from Sholl Island, and at around midnight it starts to rain. When the alarm goes off it is still raining, so being the whimpish arid zone sailors that we are, we go back to bed. At around 8.30am under a heavy sky and just a few light patches a drizzle we prepare for departure, thinking we’re very clever at remaining dry. Murray was on sail hoisting duty that morning, and soon discovered that furled sails hold a lot of water and give you a very sudden and large dousing as soon as you pull on that halyard! Should have had the soap out!
We got quite a surprise when we approached Cape Preston to discover that what has always been pastoral country is being ripped up for iron ore. When we anchored there two years ago, there were helicopters flying around and people inspecting things on the ground, so we suspected that something was afoot. Two years on, and it is all happening. As usual Cape Preston was a horrid anchorage with swell at 90 degrees to the waves. So at 1am with a lovely southerly breeze, we got on our way to the Dampier Archipelago, and dropped anchor at East Lewis Island at around 9am. A great place to stock up on fish before heading into the crowded waters of Hampton Harbour and the frantic pace of a stay in port. And this time we have much extra work to do!
As we rounded Point King enroute to Hampton Harbour we thought we’d see the effects of the “global downturn” with empty wharves and big stockpiles of salt and iron ore. But not so. Every wharf was occupied to capacity, the stockpiles were probably smaller than 2 years ago, and we could see quite a few ships out in the anchorage awaiting their turn. A few people have told us that things slowed down for about a month, and in actual fact, they can’t dig the ore out of the ground fast enough to load the ships in their proper loading time! The Burrup Penninsula is a forest of cranes as Woodside goes ahead with the Pluto development. There is talk of Port expansion and new ports. Karratha has grown considerably and there is a new fly-in fly-out camp on the outskirts housing 5,000 people, and expanding. That camp alone will soon be bigger than Carnarvon! Global downturn? Not here! Dampier is the largest bulk export port in the world, followed closely by Port Hedland.
So here we are in Hampton Harbour, getting ready to leave again. We put Salad Days up on the beach for a thorough inspection and a local yachtie, who has built several boats, came down to have a look, with the comforting words – “Oh, that’s nothing!” He then went back to his car and returned with all the materials we needed for the repairs. The generosity of people never ceases to amaze us. Back on the beach at 3am the next night with work starting at 5am. As it was a howling cold easterly wind, the fiberglass didn’t set in time for the antifoul paint to go on, so we’ll have to go through the beaching exercise again in Port Hedland when the tides are more favourable. We were rather exhausted after all that as the tides dictated that all the beaching and getting off again had to be done in the wee small hours of the mornings.
And then the accidents continued, but not to the boat this time. While Murray had the repair work under control, I decided to get the washing done, and while walking along the beach kicked a rock which peeled my big toe just like you would skin a rabbit. Ouch! Back at the boat I doctored it, bandaged it up and went about the day’s chores, cursing the inconvenience of such an injury. Then later that same day we headed off to the public toilet and shower block for the daily shower (as the yacht club was closed) and gouged my arm on a door latch. There was blood pouring out of my arm, and as my towel had just been washed that day, I wasn’t real keen on stemming the flow with my clean, fresh fluffy towel! Some girls attending a mining company function nearby happened to come in, and in the blink of an eye had their first aid kits out of their car and my arm bandaged. Given the size of the cut and the amount of blood loss, it needed a bit more attention than I could give it. We had heard that the Dampier Medical Centre had closed, so didn’t quite know where to go. One solution in Dampier – head to the Mission for Seafarers. They look after the ship’s crews when they are on shore leave….and cruising yachties. Within about half an hour the Chaplain had us bundled in the car and on the way to the Karratha Hospital, with strict instructions to ring once the Hospital had finished with me, and they would come in and pick us up again. Now how’s that for a fantastic service? We were so grateful. By 8pm we were back on the boat. So I now have three stitches in my arm together with a tetanus shot which hurts more than anything else. The nurse also inspected my toe, said “Ouch”, redressed it and gave me strict orders to keep it dry and redress everyday – it is going to be more of a problem than my arm! Keeping wounds dry on a boat is a major challenge.
And how quickly does news spread? Murray rang a friend in Port Hedland last night – he said he was about to ring and let us know that the RFDS Doctor in Port Hedland is awaiting our arrival to take the stitches out!! It turns out that while waiting for the lift to the hospital, Murray came back to the boat to get some warm clothes, purse etc, and passed another yachtie in a dinghy who wanted to stop for a chat. He was told “can’t stop, have to get Rosemary to hospital with a cut arm”. So Tony told Brian, and Brian rang Andie (the doctor in Port Hedland), and Andie spoke to Daryl and Di in Port Hedland. Cripes they must have known before we even left the hospital!!
With wounds to boat and person patched up, we plan to leave Dampier tomorrow – provided the mail and spare propeller arrive this afternoon – bound for Port Hedland.