It was a windy evening at Santa Rosa Island. The sky was grey, and the water was dark and agitated. Many sailboats surrounded us in Becher’s Bay anchorage, but most of the crews were gone ashore with their dinghy to celebrate a certain something. It will soon be 5 p.m. After a long hike with our friends from the Sailing Vessel Renard, we were expecting them to come and join us on our boat for a last end the day activity with them. The pizza was in the oven. The younger kids were dressing up in dry clothes while Mom was getting things ready to greet our guests. Dad popped his head out the companionway’s dodger, watching to see if our neighbours were on their way. My siblings, Alice and Florence, were elated as they impatiently waited for this imminent moment. They were eager to play with their friends, Charlotte and Alice from the Sailing Vessel Renard. It was one of the rare instances where my two little sisters had the chance to make friends with girls their age. It’s a good thing, I would say. They never had a very vivid social life. They don’t speak much English and we spent the last couple of years in English places, so… Anyhow, they adapted quickly to these new friendships and were now overly excited about it. As they anticipated their friends’ arrival, they listed all the activities they planned to do with them. At that very moment, my dad came down the stairs, entering the saloon with a puzzled gaze. He reached for the VHF, and without telling us anything about his questionings, he broadcast for the S. V. Renard’s
—Renard, Renard, this is Sailing Vessel Pinocchio. Simon, do you hear me?
Just a few seconds later, we heard the reply at the radio. The sound was too high and too loud. Dad quickly turned it down and explained what was puzzling his mind.
—Is it normal for that catamaran to be so far out there? I looked with binoculars. The dinghy is gone and nobody seems onboard!
Barely had he finished his sentence that the whole family was outside watching with stupefaction the 35-foot boat drifting on the water, pushed by the wind and the current like if nothing was holding it back. Everyone formulated hypotheses, all equally plausible. But we had no time to waste. The catamaran was effectively going away with nobody onboard. Pinocchio’s and Renard’s captains both decided to take action. I knew exactly what needed to be done. Pinocchio crew, to the rescue once again!
Of course, it’s not the first time we intervene on cases like this since we started our journey. We now have experience with these types of events and we can easily figure out what to do. However, the actual circumstances will turn out slightly differently than those we faced in the past. Still, my dad and I loaded the dinghy with our spare 45-pound CQR anchor and a 10-metre chain. We rode towards the catamaran, at maximum speed, while Simon’s dinghy followed in our wake. When we arrived at the bow, we quickly realized the rope to which the catamaran was moored had been cut. Deep inside, I was thinking:
—Another classical case of a sailor who anchored using a rope as a mooring line without checking the anchorage’s bottom. Some have sharp rocks which never fails cutting a line tangled around it…
This is precisely the situation of this anchorage in the Channel Islands, as we can hear every night by the resonance of the chain rubbing on the rocks. As far as we’re concerned, we can rest assured, because our brand new thirteen millimetre chain scarcely fears a few rocks. In the worst-case scenario, it risks to jam somewhere and we’ll have to dive in to loosen it up. Still, we can sleep soundly, it won’t break. Yet, in the specific case we were facing that day, the rope had worn out and had been drastically cut at 10 metres from the boat. The adults proposed we pull the catamaran with the dinghy. However I thought that would be a waste of time because of the wind and the waves. I’d rather jump on the catamaran, start the engines and drive the boat back in shallower water where we could safely drop anchor. I therefore climbed on the deck. It was weird being on a vessel that wasn’t ours. I felt like a pirate, but was soon taken back to reality. If we didn’t quickly take action, the sailboat would keep drifting further offshore where the conditions would make the rescue much harder.
My dad quickly went back to Pinocchio to grab a long solid rope to moor the catamaran. Meanwhile, my mom called on the VHF to ask if anybody knew where the boat’s owners were, but got no results. We later found out they were at the beach and hadn’t noticed their sailboat was drifting away. I tried looking in the outside lockers to see if I could find any rope or anchor to use, but in vain. As my dad was coming back with the rope, I began searching for the sailboat’s engines ignition system. I quickly spotted the two starters. Proud of myself, I got them running. That was a great success; at least, that’s what I first thought. But as my dad approached, he loudly yelled at me to shut down the engines. Simon’s voice came to me almost at the same time:
—THE ENGINES AREN’T IN THE WATER! TURN EVERYTHING OFF!
Oh dear, indeed, in the hurry, I had completely forgotten to make sure they were down. Yet, it’s a critical step when we start an engine: Always make sure that water is exiting the cooling system. This catamaran has two outboard engines and they had been lifted out of the water. Scatterbrained am I. I forgot to look. Simon was now in the cockpit with me. We managed to tilt the engines back down in the water. Time for a second try. The engines restarted fine. Perfect! Next step, the gas controller. We went slowly at first. The port side engine was running well, but it wasn’t the case of the starboard one. A weird sound forced us to turn off the engines again, for we didn’t know yet which one had a problem. We checked in the engine pit. Horror! The gas hose was twisted around the port side engine’s propeller.
—The port side engine is out of order, we’ll have to try with just the starboard engine, I said calmly.
With the wind blowing between the two hulls and the waves destabilizing the craft, this was easy to say but not to do. With only one engine, we were unable to turn. Good news! The owners were on their way back from the beach. We saw stress and panic in their faces as they wondered why their catamaran wasn’t anchored where they had left it. We explained the situation and they took charge of the steering, although somehow dazed by the shock. Still, it didn’t change anything to the fact the port engine was out of order. Without it, we were unable to drive the multihull. From the boat’s deck, it was impossible to untwist the hose from around the propeller. I volunteered to go under the boat to remove the hose from the engine’s base. Everyone tried to dissuade me from going. The water was cold, it was windy, and there were lots of waves, so it was kind of risky. Plus, the other propeller was turning just at a few metres from there, making it all the more dangerous. However, I’m a man of action. I might be slightly reckless sometimes, yet nothing terrible has ever happened to me.
So I decided to go anyways. I took off my t-shirt and shorts, ending up in my underwear. I don’t mind too much getting wet. Nevertheless, I hate getting my clothes wet. It’s long to dry and uncomfortable to be in damp clothes. I then lied down on an inflatable board and headed under the catamaran. The waves immediately got me drenched, and pushed me against the hull, where I bumped my head. I started shivering from the cold, but it was too late to change my mind. When I finally reached the engine, I realized the situation would be harder than expected. The hose had done many turns around the propeller, and it was too tight for me to be able to pull on it. I had to think carefully and search a solution… Eureka! I tried turning the propeller in the opposite direction, hoping it would help. It didn’t totally give the expected result, but it did loosen things up.
—Do you mind if I damage the hose a little bit while pulling on it? I asked to whoever would hear me in all this noise.
Soon enough, I saw someone’s head popping in the engine pit. He told me to do my best to keep it intact, but that it was no big deal if I damaged it anyways! I therefore started pulling. I could feel all my arms and back muscles contracting, giving all they could. The hose slowly unjammed and I could relax my muscles. I caught my breath and started pulling in the other direction to untwine the second twist. Lactic acid was causing me pain in the arms, but I had to make a last effort. Finally, I had only a few loose twists left to undo.
With all those efforts and the cold, my hands became insensitive to the propeller’s sharp metal on which my fingers and wrists kept hitting. On this last attempt, I once and for all succeeded untangling the knots and the engine was functional again. I could now head out of there, but a final wave broke on me, pushing me against the hull once again. I could only imagine all the bruises I’d have the next day. I finally hoped back on deck, acclaimed by the admiring gaze of everyone.
Now that the two engines were working, the catamaran’s captain started heading inside the bay. I helped my dad, Simon and the captain’s son to prepare the new temporary mooring with our 20-millimetre polypropylene rope. However, the catamaran’s owner preferred using his own rope which was smaller, but longer. We therefore tied our CQR anchor to his rope and waited for the next instructions. I was slowly warming up, but my arms and hands were still sore. We reached the spot where they wanted to anchor. We then had to drop the anchor manually, so I swung it at arm’s length above the front rail. My dad made sure the rope was passing at the right place. The teenager helped us uncoiling the rope. Once the anchor touched the bottom, the catamaran’s captain backed up to stretch the line. He did a holding test, and it held just fine. The catamaran was safe and solidly moored again. Anyhow, we still wanted to recover our anchor.
I therefore volunteered to dive in and search for their anchor the next day. Not that same day, for it was getting dark and the pizza was certainly cold already. Time flies. It had been two hours since we had left to do the rescue. They gratefully accepted my offer, saying they would join me in my search. The captain’s wife gave us some chocolate to thank us, and we proudly returned to each of our boats to rest and tell about our achievements.
As soon as we got back to our boat, we were bombarded with dozens of questions on the event. As I had thought, the pizzas weren’t warm anymore. We just had to eat them cold. Shortly afterward, the Renard’s crew finally arrived on Pinocchio, about two hours later than initially planned. We could feel the festive atmosphere. When my girlfriend Rese heard about my adventure, she was quite impressed, yet she told me I should have been more cautious. It’s funny, my mom told me the same thing. Yet, I didn’t feel in danger at all during the rescue. I even had lots of fun!
After a well-earned full night’s rest, a new day had started. The events of the previous day were almost erased from my mind. I was therefore sitting in my bed, quietly doing my maths. Unexpectedly, the catamaran’s captain and his son drew alongside of Pinocchio with their dinghy. They both had their wetsuit on and their mask on the forehead. I had a sudden flashback! I quickly picked up my gear and told my brother. If someone’s good at finding something underwater, it’s truly Raphaël. We threw our fins, masks, snorkels and weight belts in the dinghy. We then put on our 4.3 mm and 5.4 mm wetsuits as well as our neoprene hoods and socks. Yes, the water is quite cold around there. Plus, we knew we might have to stay a long time in the water. As soon as we were ready to roll, we hoped in our dinghy and followed them to the spot where they thought they would have initially dropped anchor. We anchored the dinghies and were assigned a search zone. It was now time to slip slowly out of the craft. Entering the water is always the hardest moment. I could feel the cold water biting my cheeks like thousands of little needles, as a trickle of freezing water crept into every single space between my skin and my wetsuit. This same coat of water that would soon keep me warm was for a moment like a torture that I had no other choice than to endure. Once my body got used to the cold water, it got much better. We could then start the searching.
I was assigned the furthest zone. I therefore dove in the water. Fortunately, it wasn’t very deep out there. Only between seven and nine metres. I was therefore able to remain under water long enough to scan and observe a wider surface at every dive. I love the ambiance under water like this, when the pressure keeps me in the bottom and I feel my whole body surrounded by endless ocean. I moved to a quick and regular rhythm. My time in apnea turned around 45 seconds and a minute. From one dive to the next, I covered a wider zone, but still hadn’t found any trace of a rope or anchor. After a few more minutes, I found a rope! I called the others, who immediately came to find me with a happy face. I pulled, and pulled until I found the opposite end… Crumbs, this rope isn’t the one we were looking for. We still loaded it in the dinghy to prevent it from getting tangled in some other boat’s anchor. Then we started searching again. Half an hour later, I was about 200 metres away from the search zone. I was starting to lose all hopes of finding anything. By the look in their face, I could see the whole troop was also losing hope. I tried a last dive as I swam towards the dinghies.
SURPRISE! A nice shiny chain was lying down on the rocks. I first thought it wasn’t theirs, for I believed they had only put rope. However, the captain confirmed that yes, they had used a 10-metre chain with the rope. I therefore dove in and tried following the chain until I’d spot the rope. Whoops, wrong side. I had to breathe, so I came back to the surface. Later on, everyone came closer, asking if I had spotted the anchor. I told them about the situation, explaining I had located the rope, but it seemed jammed somewhere. Of course! The tension was too high and I couldn’t pull it up to the surface. We all dove in together this time, but I realized with horror that I had drifted and lost the rope.
Fortunately, a crisp metallic sound led me to the anchor. Raphaël, who had found it by following the chain, was knocking on it with his knife to alert us. We hence could start the recuperation process. We dove in, two at the time so we wouldn’t lose track of the chain. We followed it until we reached the end of the rope, which was solidly jammed under a big sharp rock. Afterward, everything went very well. In a few minutes, we brought the rope to the surface and someone in the dinghy pulled on it until the anchor was up. We had been successful in our mission! The anchor was recovered, and everyone was happy. The catamaran’s captain thanked us for our help. Sooth to say, they might not have been able to find anything in the bottom of the water with their equipment. They didn’t have the proper gear for diving, only a wetsuit and a masque. They had no weight belts and their fins were too short, designed for scuba diving. For our part, we were absolutely glad to have been useful and at the same time practise our undersea search. Plus, it was a great morning swim! Still, we were glad to return to our sailboat to warm up after saying goodbye to our new friends.
After this whole adventure, we all agreed to say that rope moorings aren’t the best and that we must pay a very close attention to our sailboat at anchorage. I think they will also do the same. People won’t always be around to watch and rescue our sailboat if it breaks its mooring lines. It will have been a great learning experience. We now know more about what to do and not to do, too. But it still wasn’t the end yet!
When the catamaran’s captain tried lifting up our CQR anchor, he realized his mooring line was caught in the rocks once again. When he came back to our boat to ask for help, we were already gone for a hike on the island… Mom gave them a few words of advice:
—Try to take pressure off the chain by moving forward with the engines on… Then, circumvent the rock to set the mooring line free. Someone must look in the water and guide the driver, while someone else lifts the chain…
It worked! The next day, another friend accidentally dropped a weight belt in the water. Pinocchio crew, to the rescue again!
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Thomas, you got my hearth racing for a while. Very good in all your details about this rescue. I see you are very helpful along with you dad and brother too.