Heading home?

by Diek

July 20, 2007

Yesterday I had my biggest challenge as a jettie driver so far. Guided by a totally unreliable blown up sea chart with last known depths taken 10 years ago, and advice from the local people to turn right by the island and stay close to the shore, we took off from the Espy around noon. Due to swell and a strong NW wind I couldn’t see any island in the first hour. While we were bouncing from wave to wave with spray filling the air around us, I noticed a slight difference in the breaking waves close to us, dead ahead.

I pushed the throttle up and aimed for the middle part of these confused seas where the water was more calm. Surfing the last wave in to this flat sea, I realized we made it so far. A moment of rest for everybody and a moment for me to check position by eye and GPS. Then I saw I took the South entrance between the islands and not the North as planned. These islands were not covered with any green life. They are only 3 feet above sea level and nothing else than a high sand bank. The rest of the lower sand banks were now somewhere under and surrounding us. We had no depth sounder. In my opinion it was not necessary. A long pole with some tape will measure just what I want to know; enough depth or not.

So, there we were; between the islands and the mainland, surrounded by unseen sandbanks, alive and kicking. What to do? Just what I learned as a kid in Holland, take the pole and source your way in. (I gave the campaigners a warning; going in is one thing, coming out is something else, and help is far away, here at 60 degrees North and 165 West). With Freddy standing up front ‘poling’ constantly and on an easy throttle we slowly headed towards the mainland, as advised. After four ‘pull backs’ we dropped anchor and waited for more water. Two hours to go before high tide and 8 miles to go to the village.

Half a hour later we found a way between the banks and we sped up, parallel to the beach. Everything seemed to go perfectly and I even got a compliment. But I rejected that by answering to keep that compliment until we were drinking a beer on board and all is fine. By now we’re doing 20 knots (draft becomes less) and cruising parallel to the mainland into the mouth of the river. The first two bumps I didn’t feel or notice, the third I was wondering; “what’s happening?”, and after the fourth I had the throttle all the way down. But it was too late… we were stuck. And not “normal stuck”, but serious stuck. In the mud; black soft mud.

We had less than two hands of water and the boat had a draft of just one arm. Need to calculate? Six cables to the entrance and here we are. Seven opinions further I used my veto and ordered all (all…) the weight to the front of the boat. That lifts the back of the boat. With a lot of steering and engine force, half a hour later we were in deeper water. By now it was the calculated high tide. We decided to go back to the ship. The programmed way point directed me nicely towards the middle of two other (charted) islands. Because time wasn’t on my side, and I thought I had deep enough water, we were doing 25 knots. But as we came closer to the way point, and I was standing to see further ahead, I realized there was no gap, the way point was exactly in the middle of this extra long island. And before I could slow down and take position we hit a bank, this time hard. In a split second we went from 20 knots to zero. Now all the weight was at the fore ship without asking. And luckily no injuries. After three opinions I ordered everybody in the water to push and pull our way out, steering and throtelling at the same time. The tide was on the way out and we had no time left. Freddy found some deeper water. Everybody pushed and pulled the boat into the deep water. All piled in again and vrooeeeemmmm, full force over the banks, all or nothing, into the disturbed sea between the islands again. Water sprays takes away any horizon.  Time to report home:” Esperanza…, Billy green,….we reached deep waters,.. ETA 35 minutes”.

By Diek

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