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Chatty log | Dismasted!

Passage to nowhere... Dismasted!

11 July

John: Yeah, right. Well the weather didn't clear up for long. We spent the majority of last night dodging squalls under main, staysail and partially-reefed Genoa. We're heading on 080T to get north to find the east-going current and steady SW monsoon winds, but hopefully staying south of the really grobbly stuff close to Sri Lanka. What makes the squall-dodging all that much more difficult is that the Cetrek wind instrument has packed up again. It seems to do this when it rains, so I guess it's water getting into a connection somewhere. I tried to isolate it in Gan but there's nothing wrong with the display head or the wiring as it comes out of the mast. We took the sender unit apart and re-made the connections at the mast head a while back, to no effect apparently. Have to get it sorted out in Phuket... along with a million other things.

12 July

John: This is pretty tiresome. Half the time we're worried about having too much sail up, the other half we haven't enough wind to sail and end up motoring to manoevre around squalls, even while we still have reefs in. At 06:10 we had 3-4 knots of wind. At 11:00 a squall had hit us and I was wrestling with the helm trying to prevent a broach in about 30-40 kts of wind, but who knows, without a wind instrument? We have to get the Genoa well-furled before this kind of wind strikes; it's almost impossible to grind it in once we have a strong breeze, the furling drum really isn't man enough for the job and I can barely winch the furling line in against the strain even while the sheets are slack and whipping the living daylights out of the stanchions, coachroof and anything else in the way. We've trashed the starboard Genoa sheet this way. A couple of sliders on the main have also gone. This is the first time we've had both reefs in the main and I find that it's really difficult to use the single line reefing without sucking the loose part of the main into the sheave. At 13:23 local we crossed the equator! I was asleep, but Caro and the kids did a little jig. By the end of the day all the reefs were out but we furled up the Genoa as the wind dropped to zero and got the engine on again to get further NE, hopefully we'll find the monsoon trades if we get far enough north, maybe 2 deg. 30' or so.

13 July

John: I awoke at 00:10 local to find everyone asleep, a ghost ship! Motoring along gently at 800 rpm making 4 kts with 1 reef in the main and staysail out, no Genoa. No wind, either. 0 deg. 31.5'N, 074 deg. 53.3'E. By 05:30 it looked like there might be enough wind to sail, with a moderating sea. Time to set full sail and hope we can keep the canvas full of air instead of having the sails slamming in the waves. In the end we spent most of the day reefing and letting out reefs. This is tiring my arms out! Poor Alex gets pretty nervous when the wind is howling and the boat is driving crazily downwind. I have to say that I'm none too relaxed myself in those short bursts of wind that seize the boat. If we can get the Genoa rolled up in time we're in reasonable shape. We can always let the mainsheet all the way out and slack off the kicking strap to let the main plaster itself against the shrouds and spill the air if the wind gusts a lot. The problem is we can't see any rhyme or reason to when the wind will howl or not. Sometimes the most threatening wall of squalls forms, complete with a solid black front (if you can see it in daylight) while the radar makes it look like an inpenetrable wall, yet there's just a gentle breeze as it passes over, followed by light rain. Other times a small squall, or maybe a cluster of 2 or 3 compact patches, brings howling wind I can't stand up in.

Caro: In this weather it's so hard to get any rest. These squalls keep us really busy. It's also a real pain that it's so hard to take in sail. I cannot furl up the genoa at all as soon as there's some wind. That's no good at all, we've got to get a better furler. It's stupid that I have to get John up to furl up the genoa a bit. We are all getting pretty tired, but at least we're doing okay with the motion. Even Alex has his sealegs already.

14 July

John: Got up around 04:00 as the radar alarm went off, again. More squalls. We were on port tack on a broad reach. By 04:20 I could see some developing astern and to port, so no hope of dodging all of them. They didn't look too serious. We had a reef in the main and deeply-reefed Genoa with staysail so it should be OK, even if I do end up having to wrestle with the boat to stop her broaching in the gusts. I hesitated to wake Caro to let her know squalls were on the way, but did so anyway. Better that she wake up in an orderly way than be jolted awake by the boat gyrating in the gusts. Caro joined me in the cockpit to handle lines and secure the bimini to try and keep some of the rain out. We were at 01 deg. 10.5'N, 076 deg. 36.2'E.

At 04:30 a blast of wind hit us over the port quarter like a hammer. Jocara slewed to port under the blow, her main already paid out to the stops against the shrouds but her deeply-reefed Genoa bagging the air and hauling her round. I fought hard over to starboard as the rain hit like a hail of bullets. She had started to veer back downwind when there was a sharp tearing, screeching sound all around me with a tremendous tumult of explosive crashes. She went dead under my hand, the hull righting herself and the speed dropping away rapidly to nothing. I stood aghast, staring into the black moonless pre-dawn nightmare of this squall and Caro said "Oh my God! It's the mast!" I knew she was right, but my mind didn't want to believe it. For a moment we were in shock, unmoving. My throat was dry while my stomach turned to water. The kids cowered below, wise that they are, they know when to keep their heads down! A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind, but I was bewildered. What could I, should I do? It was black as pitch, the less-than-full moon having set and it being an hour before dawn. It was raining heavily with a howling wind and steep pitching sea. Yet we might only have a few minutes if the mast had holed the hull below the waterline.

I realised that somehow I had to get outside to assess the damage and see if the mast was in danger of puncturing the hull. We checked briefly below; there didn't seem to be any water gushing in. I crawled out onto the starboard deck with harness and light, the boat corkscrewing beneath me. The mast was completely gone. Well, pretty much everything seemed to be gone. Mast, all the standing rigging, all three sails, the deck flush where the mast used to stand. The starboard railing was torn away, too. It was an eerie scene. I crawled onto the coachroof and crept forward, hand over hand, to see if the mast was a danger to the hull. Something gritty was under my knees. I realised later this was the shattered safety glass from a doghouse window that was slashing my hands and legs to shreds as I crawled about, blood streaking the deck. Spilt diesel from jerries, partially crushed under the mast on the starboard side, mixed with the broken glass to make an unholy slippery mess to slither about in while the boat gyrated like a mad thing. The base of the mast, with wickedly protruding screws, was upside down alongside the boat, jabbing skywards and sawing its way through the caprail, the Main and Genoa halyard winches biting chunks out of the side of the boat. At least it wasn't below the waterline, firing cookie-cutter holes through the hull like a hole punch. There was pretty much nothing I could do apart from secure some lines to try and stabilise the mast, holding the bottom couple of metres above water and directed upwards and away from the hull, until it got light. Trying to do any more than that was asking to get badly injured or swept over the side, with no rail to hold on to.

Then Caro saw a single white light off the starboard quarter. A ship! We called on the VHF. No response. Then it dawned on me that the VHF antenna was on top of the mast. We called on the handheld VHF. Still no answer. I considered our situation. If the mast broke its death-grip on the caprail and started hammering the hull around the waterline we could sink in minutes. This was a serious threat to vessel and, maybe, even life. I called a PanPan. Repeatedly. No response. Then we got the flares out. We couldn't find any white ones, so I fired a red parachute. It seared into the sky and blossomed high above us, floating serenly down. I called on the VHF again. Still no answer. The light was gone. Probably a fishing boat. It wasn't going to be of any help.

As soon as it got light enough, Casper and I were on deck with our harnesses, Caro and Alex supporting the effort to bring the mast alongside. It seemed an impossible task, with wires and ropes tangled everywhere, sails in the water acting like a sea anchor and the boat pitching, heaving, rolling. Even getting near the mast was dangerous in the extreme, a sudden roll or heave sending it thrusting powerfully up into the air over the deck, slewing across like a demented thing intent on skewering me through the chest. There was nothing for it, I had to get the boom off to stand any chance of bringing the mast under control, though where we went from there I did not know and could not plan. Somehow I got close enough to the mast with a pair of spanners that Casper brought me. It takes two to lock the bolt and undo the nut. Partially wrapping myself around the wildly-gyrating mast like a rodeo rider I struggled to get the bolt on the gooseneck undone. Every time I got one spanner on and was about to work the other, I was thrown off or the mast twisted and I only just got my hand out in time before it was crushed against the hull. It seemed hopeless, as I stared at the problem. But there was nothing for it, the boom was going to have to come off or we had to cut the whole lot free. I threw myself back into the fray. Miraculously, I finally got a few precious seconds without major upheaval to work the bolt and it freed. The boom separated at the gooseneck. Now to release the outhaul, single-line reefing lines, kicking strap, foot sliders, so much stuff to tangle. Amazingly, after what seemed like hours, we got the boom entirely free and the mast paid off enough to have it ride under the boat rather than continue to beat up the freeboard hull. We stopped for a break and Casper saved my life with a cup of Spinelli's finest and some chocolate-spread sandwiches. Then we levered and winched and heaved and finally got the boom tamed and on deck. Our first victory in a long battle. We stopped to rest.

The problem was, we had no idea how we were going to get any further. It was impossible to manhandle any of the lines or the mast itself. It was just too heavy and under too much strain, with the heavy rolling adding another layer of impossibility. Still, we wanted to keep the mast if we could. Perhaps if we used the motor to head into the swell to reduce the rolling motion? Jocara came round under minimum power but immediately paid off to lie broadside again on the other side. We couldn't hope to keep steerage without using more power, which would tear the mast free anyway. Obviously, the sails in the water were making it impossible. Then there was the danger of entanglement in the prop. Suddenly, we saw that a couple of the lines had gone slack. A cleat had been torn off it's base and disappeared. The mast was now way under the boat, to windward, the attached sails still working as a sea anchor but now with only a tenuous connection to the boat. The shrouds had been ripped clean off the boat when the mast fell. It had been the backstay that had parted, causing the dismasting. I had released the forestay to allow the mast to align more easily. So no standing rigging was left to hold her.

We spent the next couple of hours painstakingly recovering the Genoa and forestay with its twisted foil, hoping against hope that the mast would still be attached to the end of it. Finally we got the shredded Genoa all up and tied alongside the port rail. There was no trace of the mast, mainsail or staysail. We'd lost it. Still, better that than having it skewered through the hull! Maybe we could have done things a little differently, and kept the mast. Maybe not. Frankly, it had been impossible to think our way through a complete plan, we had just managed to keep everyone safe and achieve one step at a time with only a vague notion of how to proceed from there. A heavily rolling vessel, after a sleepless night, in wind and rain is not an environment in which any of us can think with the utmost clarity. I was verging on vegetable.

So, the first priority was to rig a temporary HF antenna so we could let the world know. We'd missed the morning scheds on 14323 and 8161 kHz, but we might still be able to send emails out via Brunei in the afternoon propagation window if we were quick. I lashed a set of PVC piping and some wooden poles together in overlapping segments to make a more-or-less stiff support, tying in a piece of the split backstay (all that remained of our standing rigging) as a conductor. Caro helped me raise it on a lashed pivot at the top of the davits, so that in all it stood almost 7m off the deck when we raised it. That should be OK for the 14m band, in the 20 MHz range, where I knew Brunei had a transceiver frequency. I connected the feed from the tuner and went below to turn on the radio. I hit the tune button and the tuner flashed its message of patience... then stayed on. Tuned. I checked the Standing Wave Ratio. It looked good, suspiciously good.

I composed two messages. One to Richard (who runs the SE Asian Mobile Maritime Net on 14323 kHz at 00:25 UTC each day) and another to send out as a newsletter, both describing in dry (and I hoped relatively undramatic) terms what had happened to us. The one to Richard read as follows:

"At 23:30 UTC on 13 July Jocara was hit by a squall at 01 deg. 10.5'N, 076 deg. 36.2'E. Her backstay parted at the insulator swage, dismasting her instantly. The boom was recovered but the mast and rigging entirely lost. No significant hull damage. 2 adults, 2 kids and 2 cats all well on board and in no immediate danger. Now drifting south at 0.75 knot with approx. 180 litres of diesel available, insufficient to reach land. Rolling +/- 30 deg. in cross swell. Have jury-rigged a 7m HF antenna.
Request assistance to reach land. 100 litres of additional fuel will get us to Gan. Male also attractive possibility. Vessels leaving Chagos, Gan or Male for Thailand or Malaysia could bring fuel to rendevous. We can motor up to 150 n.m. in good wx. We have a portable VHF. Any ships in vicinity or vessels bound within 150 n.m. of our position requested to assist. Please keep all sailmail email short and pertinent to rescue. We will obviously reimburse costs, and then some. We will attempt to come up on 14323 at 00:30 UTC and 8161 at 02:30 UTC but no guarantee antenna will work well enough. Hope we will be able to send and receive limited sailmail on 20 MHz in afternoons.
Can you please pass on info to possible sources of help, including SE Maritime Net and Chagos net and co-ordinate responses? Many thanks! John, Caro, Casper, Alex."

We tried to connect to Brunei. No response, although the propagation prediction indicated that this should be a good time. We tried again. We called on different frequencies. Nothing. Caro was getting seriously worried. I was keeping the lid on mine, just. If this didn't work we were in serious doodoo. I suggested we wait half an hour and try again. Maybe it was just a propagation thing.

Half an hour later we tried again... and immediately got a strong signal. I cannot tell you how good that digital burbling signal from Brunei sounded to me, it was music of the highest order. If the final choral movement of Beethoven's 9th does anything for you, you know what I mean. The messages went out. For the first time that day we felt like things were coming under some control. Meanwhile Jocara drifted slowly south, rolling horribly. We would not be able to sleep that night.

Caro: As soon as I heard the BANG, CRASH, I knew we'd lost the mast. That horrible sound couldn't be anything else. My first thought after that was, is the mast bashing holes into the hull? I was relieved when I saw the foot of the mast sticking up over the starboard railing. Never mind that it was really making a mess, it wasn't punching holes in the hull under the waterline. I kept my eye on the mast foot until it got light and we could start working on trying to untangle everything. What a mess! I just could not belief what had happened. That squall didn't seem any worse than others we had. What were we going to do now? One step at a time. I don't know how John got the boom of the mast. It looked impossible, but somehow he always manages to get done what is absolutely necessary. It was a real blow we could not save the mast. But the big picture was that we were all okay and the hull intact. Actually I'm feeling kind of numb.

15 July

John: In fact, I was so exhausted that I did get some rest, though I won't call it sleep. I was up for Richard's net at 00:25 UTC (05:25 local) and reported our position: 0 deg. 54.9'N, 076 deg. 35.28'E. Richard advised us to head on 240T to get south of the equator to find better weather. We didn't have enough diesel to motor to the nearest land, over 200 n.m. to the west. I remembered how I had stood on deck in Gan, indecisive about whether to take more diesel when Clark called out to me to say the truck was there and did I want some. "No" I said, "We'll find wind" We found wind alright. Too much wind. And now we were short of maybe 60 litres of diesel to get to land.

Well, maybe we didn't have to lie completely helpless, wallowing in this dreadful swell that rolled the boat from 30 degrees one side to 30 degrees the other. We had the boom, after all. Could we raise this as a mast? We began to work on the idea. Casper took a quick snorkel to check that our rudder and prop were clear of debris and then started collecting together all the blocks and tackle we'd need to rig forestay, backstay and shrouds, adjustable so we could tension everything up. Alex sorted out all the ropes, cutting off the damaged parts, sealing the ends with the blowtorch and tying them up in bundles. Caroline took care of us all as best she could, cooking in the heavy rolling. I got all the woodworking tools out and made a base that would screw to the deck and provide a pivoted support for the boom, bolted at the gooseneck lug. That way we could raise it under control. Alex and I epoxied and bolted the mast base plate and port shroud plate in place. It took us the whole day, hanging on for dear life half the time as the boat gyrated beneath us. It's amazing how long it takes to do the simplest things when the deck under your feet is moving that much. I was further hampered by not being able to kneel, my knees being a mass of cuts and swellings from grinding broken glass and diesel into them the day before, and having torn nails and bruised hands from my wrestling with the rigging.

At 10:30 UTC (15:30 local) Jocara's position was 0 deg. 51.99'N and 76 deg. 31.85'E. The weather had improved, we now had about 10 knots of wind from the southwest with a moderate sea. We were still drifting slowly south and planned to try to head for Huvadhoo atoll, the nearest land to us.

We collected our email in the afternoon. There were 13 messages. It seemed we were suddenly very popular! One was from Cristada (in Chagos) which said that they had been contacted by a US Navy vessel, the "Shasta" and were told that the Shasta was proceeding to rendevous with us and would be with us the following morning! Wow! At 18:30 local we came up on 8161 kHz to talk with Cristada and Shasta and learnt that the Shasta was no longer planning to rendevous with us but had been turned around. No reason was offered, and it seemed impolite to press for one; the radio operator seemed not to know the whole story himself. A mystery. Oh well, things were more or less under control for the moment, so no need to panic.

In the night we saw the lights of a freighter and, later, two fishing boats. The fishing boats did not reply at all to our calls on the VHF. We had a little more luck with the freighter, from which a slurred and husky voice repeatedly assured us that he would 'turn to port to miss you' but he wouldn't say anything else despite repeated efforts to open a meaningful dialogue. I'm still wondering if he was referring to the solace of the bottle and faith in the spirits rather than the left-hand side of his ship.

Caro: I'm not sure how it's all gonna go, but it seems a good idea to me to get the boom up as a mast. I trust John in these things. We'll make it work. To keep moral up I better keep feeding these guys with food they enjoy. On days like these a nice meal is somethings to really look forward to and eating is the best time of the day. It's not at all easy to cook on a stove that swings wildly. Sure it's gimballed, but we're rolling so badly water still manages to slosh out of the pan. So, it takes a while to prepare, but we have some fresh food for lunch and dinner.

16 July

John: At 00:30 UTC (05:30 local) Jocara was at 0 deg. 44.28'N, 076 deg. 21.23'E. We heard on the morning net that the U.S. Naval attaché to the Indian Navy had reported to the 7th fleet that Indian and Australian MMRC’s were coordinating to divert two nearby Australian merchant vessels to assist us, including fuel. Maybe this was why the Shasta had decided not to rendevous? We agreed to motor on 240T from 02:30 to meet them.

Meanwhile the epoxy had cured overnight and it was time to raise the new mast with its unholy mix of rope, half the world's supply of shackles and several sets of block and tackle. No easy thing, that. Terry on Cristada had told us how to use a 'Gin' to levelthe mast up from the deck (lash a pole at right angles to the mast as it lies on the deck and run a line from the upper tip to get a better leverage angle) but we opted to hinge the mast from an inclined position resting on the doghouse roof. What a sight that was! Caroline and Alex on Port and Starboard shrouds, taking up slack to keep the mast from getting out of line and breaking the wooden hinge. Casper on the doghouse roof helping lift and controlling the backstay to stop it from pitching over the bow. Me on the forestay, hauling in on block and tackle to raise the mast. All of us clinging to a bucking boat as she rolled and pitched in the swell. It was a miracle of co-ordination that we raised the mast without snapping the hinge and got it squarely planted and under tension. We felt like we'd really achieved something. Not least of all, the new mast had a wire running up the entire length of the rope backstay to give me an improved jury-rigged HF antenna, one that proved to be better than the original insulated backstay.

Richard sent us an email with instructions on how to rig a temporary VHF antenna (use the core of the coax feed to drive a 17 3/4" length of stiff wire) so I rigged one up for our fixed 25 watt VHF in the hope that it would give us more range than the 5w handheld. In the afternoon we heard one transmission on the VHF, heavily accented and sounding very distant/ low signal to noise. They could have been calling some garbled version of the name 'Jocara'. We called back on both VHF radios, but got no further signal.

It seemed like a lot of official Maritime Search and Rescue organisations were getting involved (not quite my original intention) and that things were going to get confusing (they already had). So I decided to start issuing situation reports by email, cc'd to all official involved parties, so that we'd all be reading from the same page and the various organisations would all have the same information about our situation and intent.

The first sitrep went out:
"As of 10:00 UTC on 16 July we are at 0 deg. 30.8'N, 076 deg. 00.4'E with 100 litres of diesel remaining, sufficient for no more than 100 n.m. on auxilliary in good wx. Addu atoll is 186 n.m. distant. We have raised our boom as a temporary mast and erected improved jury-rigged HF and VHF antennas.
Addu atoll is directly upwind, so we cannot attempt to raise a sail to reach there until the wind changes. We have been motoring, but will discontinue shortly to preserve fuel until we know where it is best to head for. We also need to keep some diesel in reserve to run our generator.
We spoke with USN Shasta yesterday and understand that they were at one point planning to rendevous to assist but are no longer intending to do so. We understand that there are two Australian merchant vessels who are attempting to rendevous, but we have had no contact with them so far.
We are monitoring VHF channel 16 continuously. We also monitor 14323 MHz , particularly for the mobile maritime net at 00:25 UTC and 8161 MHz at 02:30 UTC and 13:00 UTC.
If a vessel is attempting to rendevous, please let us know what HF frequencies and times we can use to communicate."

Caro: It feels good to have some sort of a mast. Makes me feel we're not totally dependent on others. Maybe we can make it back to Gan without any help. Every time I go out on deck I still cannot believe my eyes. It really happened, we really did lose our mast, rigging and sails. Incredible. And people are concerned. It's good to know people are aware of our situation. Just in case.

17 July

John: We couldn't copy Richard on the net directly this morning, but got a relay. It seems that Richard has organised a Chinese long-liner "Yue Yuan Yu 163" to rendevous with us to provide fuel. Maybe that was the VHF call we heard yesterday? We also got an email from Richard forwardel from the Australian RCC:

"RCC Australia is not involved in this incident and has not diverted any
vessels to assist.
Incident is being coordinated by Coast Guard, Republic of Maldives (tel:
+960-325981, fax: +960310054).
Understand Chinese long liner Yue Yuan Yu 613 in position 00 27.480N 076
13.640E at 161252UTC JUL 05 is proceeding to rendezvous with Jocara.
For further information, suggest you contact Maldives Coast Guard.
Graham Lloyd
Senior SAR Officer
RCC Australia"

OK, so not only is the Shasta not coming, but the Australian vessels aren't either. On the other hand, the Chinese boat was only about 25 n.m. to the east of us last night so we should be seeing her any time now. This woud be just fine. Third time lucky?

Meanwhile we had a sail to raise. The only sails we have remaining are a 100% Genoa and a small storm sail bagged up in the most inaccessible part of the forward chain locker. I grit my teeth and crawl into the chain locker, emerging some time later covered in grease, sweat and bruises in approximately equal measure. The 'storm sail' turns out to have a luff of about 12.5m and a foot of about 8m. If we raise it sideways, using the foot as the luff and the leech as the foot... We try it. We have to tie the old head of the sail to shorten it so we can draw it through the sheet roller and on to the winch, but it actually fills and pulls remarkably well. We have about 10-15 kt of wind out of the NW and can make around 3.5 kts with this sail with the apparent wind just forward of the beam on a heading of 210 or so, more or less towards Gan. We're sailing! It actually points! Well, not very high, but it works better than a downwind chute, that's for sure. By using a shackle to link the head of the sail to the forestay I discover that I can get a better leading edge. I also find that I can lead the halyard back to a block and onto the upwind Genoa sheet winch to provide additional support for the mast. I'm feeling pretty proud of our family right now. The severity of our situation has steadily reduced from initial alarm (Yes! I finally got to fire off a red flare in anger! And call a Pan Pan!) to managed inconvenience. Let's hope it stays that way.

Meanwhile we've had many countries and authorities piling in with offers of assistance, a truly-heartwarming international response. Vessels from Australia, US, China and India have all become involved in plans, albeit sometimes confused, to rendevous with us at some point over the last couple of days, co-ordinated by Ham radio operators from Thailand to Chagos and the Maldivian Coast Guard. It's actually quite embarrassing to be the cause of such a fuss. So, our sincere thanks to all of you out there who leaped to our rescue. You can stop worrying now. I think...

Later we learn that the Yue Yuan Yu 163 does not plan to rendevous with us at all. They have laid out their long lines and are hanging around expecting us to motor over to them to collect the diesel. This is now some distance east, the opposite direction to that we want to travel, and they may no longer be there anyway. Given our failure to raise them on the VHF, we decide to scrub this idea. So, once again, there has been some mis-communication and no vessel is coming to assist. Maybe that's just as well, we might well make it on our own now we have a workable sail, and we'd be chuffed to bits to actually make it back under our own steam.

My morning sitrep read rather jauntily:
First, a status report from Jocara. As of 04:40 UTC 17 July we have rigged our boom as a mast and raised a sail sideways to make a reaching Genoa giving us 3.5 knots in 15 knots of wind just forward of the beam. We are presently headed 220T, approximately towards Gan in Addu Atoll, Maldives. We have 100 litres of diesel remaining, giving us a motoring range of approx. 100 n.m. Gan is 165 n.m. distant. Our position is 0 deg. 19.0'N, 75 deg. 43.46'E. We have moderate wind from the NW and moderate seas, 8/8 overcast with no squall activity.
If mild and favourable conditions persist we expect to be able to sail within our fuel endurance of Gan and will then not require outside assistance. Vessels should not inconvenience themselves on our behalf at this time. Please continue to monitor the situation in case of adverse developments. We will continue to post updates on our situation. Your most willing and co-operative involvement to date is much appreciated and has provided much needed reassurance. The severity of our situation has steadily reduced from initial alarm in the first instance to managed inconvenience. Let's hope it stays that way.
We understand that there are no Australian or US vessels involved in plans to rendevous with us.
We also now understand that the Chinese fishing vessel 'Yue Yuan Yu' #613 did not intend to proceed to rendevous with us as we were first led to understand, but had laid their long lines and were waiting for us to make our way to their position. We are now heading away from them, towards Gan, and do not request or expect them to attempt to follow us.
We have just heard that Mumbai have kindly dispatched the M/V Aviona to rendevous with us. We do not know their current position but will listen out for them on VHF chan. 16 and HF 14.323 MHz.
We will continue to monitor VHF channel 16, HF 14.323 MHz at 00:25 UTC, 8.161 MHz at 02:30 and 13:00 UTC.
Best Regards,
John Potter."

Sadly, the favourable winds did not persist.

Second sitrep for 17 July:
At 11:20 UTC Jocara was at 0 deg. 06.5'N, 075 deg. 38.5'E, heading 200T at 1 knot in wind that has progressively backed from NW to WNW and abated from 15 to 5 knots. Sky 7/8 cu and st-cu with some scattered light rain. Sea state 1 with moderate confused swell.
Jury-rigged sail performs well, allowing sail angle just under 90 degrees to true wind including leeway.
We are heading for Gan in Addu Atoll. We would prefer to head 250T and will veer if wind direction co-operates. Meanwhile, we are aiming to get within motoring endurance range as best we can. If we do come across any of the Chinese fishing vessels reported to be in the area and it is convenient for both parties to do so we may take up an offer of diesel. There is no need at present to divert any vessel to our assistance.
Many Thanks again,
John Potter."

By the end of the day the wind had died to nothing, the sail was lowered and we were drifting east.

18 July

John: Sail up and down, in and out of our bunks all night, coping with yet more squalls. We daren't keep the sail up in a squall, we don't know how much strain this jury-rig mast can take and it would be just too embarassing to lose two masts in the space of a week. Richard tells us that Gan will have nothing more than 5 kt of wind from the south and west (the worst directions for us) for the next three days, with thunderstorms thrown in for a little excitement. We are 149 n.m. from Gan, so we really need to make 50 n.m. or so by sail before we can motor in. But how?

Morning Sitrep:

At 03:00 UTC Jocara was at 0 deg. 08.0'S, 075 deg. 35.7'E, heading 180T at 0.5 knot in 0-5 knots of wind from the WNW. Sky 8/8 st-cu with some scattered light rain and squall cells. Sea state 1 with light swell.
We continue to aim for Gan in Addu Atoll (150 n.m. distant) although present wind direction prohibits making any significant progress under sail.
We have 100 litres of diesel remaining that we are conserving until within motoring range of land.
All well on board.
Many Thanks again,
John Potter."

About midday we came across a fishing boat. The afternoon Sitrep tells the story:

At 11:28 UTC Jocara was at 0 deg. 16.3'S, 075 deg. 35.7'E, drifting slowly south in 15 knots of wind from the W. Sky 8/8 st-cu with rain and squall cells. Sea state 2 with moderate swell.
Present wind direction prohibits making progress under sail towards Gan, though we have tried repeatedly, lowering the sail in each squall to preserve the jury rigged mast. We are informed that these westerly winds can be expected to persist for the next 48 hours, obliging us to stay in a holding pattern until wx becomes more favourable.
At 07:10 UTC we encountered a small unidentified fishing vessel at 0 deg. 19.3'S, 75 deg. 34.8'E, heading North as it passed us 0.75 n.m. on our starboard side while we were sailing slowly South. We called repeatedly on VHF channel 16 and signalled by waving arms standing on the coachroof. We could see personelle on their deck. They appeared to have come close by to take a look, then they departed, heading West. There was no flag of registry or name visible. The vessel was predominantly white, appeared in a poor state of repair (as do we) and of traditional Indo-Asian lines with a high bow and sweeping waist, probably constructed of wood. It could have been Sri Lankan, Indonesian or similar.
Many Thanks again,
John Potter."

It seems that we can hardly expect much in the way of help from fishing boats. The waiting is hard on the nerves. Waiting for wind, just enough measly wind to make a paltry 50 n.m. is all we need. Instead, all we get is a light westerly breeze and squalls with a southerly or easterly current. By the end of today we had narrowed the gap to Gan (145 nm.) by a few precious miles, desperately trying to hold on to our longitude.

19 July

John: We can still see the fishing boat that's been hanging around the area since last night, about 4 n.m. away, but there's no response from shining lights at her or on the VHF using either radio. We can hardly go off chasing her.

At 02:25 UTC 19 July Jocara was at 0 deg. 29.1'S, 075 deg. 35.7'E, drifting slowly south in 10 knots of wind from the NW. Sky 6/8 st-cu and cu with rain and squall cells. Sea state 2 with moderate swell.
Present wind direction continues to prohibit making significant progress under sail towards Gan, which is now almost due west of us. We are informed that NW winds can be expected to persist for a further 48 hours.
We attempted to contact a presumed fishing vessel showing a white light at 4 n.m. range last night, by VHF and light signals, to no effect.
100 litres of diesel remains. All well on board.
Many Thanks again,
John Potter."

We now learn that the Maldivian Coast Guard has had the local agent for the Chinese fishing licensee inform all their vessels in the area to be on the lookout for us and to provide fuel. It seems there are a couple more of these boats, Yue Yuan Yu 168 and 169, on our path to the southwest. Let's hope we find one! Well, the Gods sometimes grant one's wished in peculiar ways...

At 09:30 UTC 19 July we were at 0 deg. 43.57'S, 075 deg. 35.14'E, sailing south in a WNW wind of 10 knots, unable to get closer to Gan than about 145 n.m. because of the adverse wind angle. We have been plagued by squalls, for which we respectfully lower our jury-rigged sail. So, we're toughing it out, waiting for favourable wind. There's a catch 22 here. If we drop the sail Jocara lurches sickeningly, making sleep impossible. Just staying physically lying down in the approximate area of the bunk is a challenge. If we raise the sail, Jocara steadies in the swell enough to rest, but Caro or I have to be up the whole time watching squall development to be sure to get the other on deck so we can drop the sail in time before the gusts hit. We're a little sensitive about the rigging, you see. We'd like to think that we've learnt our lesson, but Neptune thinks not, at least not yet. West winds are unusual here for this time of year yet we've been battling them for several days now, clawing our way south while tenaciously hanging on to our longitude so as not to be swept away east by the current.

Then we did find one of the Chinese fishing vessels, this time in broad daylight. Fat lot of good it did us.

At 11:15 UTC 19 July Jocara was at 0 deg. 47.0'S, 075 deg. 36.0'E, sailing at 2 kts on 170T in 8-10 knots of wind from the W. Sky 2/8 cu, sunny. Sea state 2 with moderate swell.
We are continuing to sail southwards, even though this slowly opens the range to Gan, to enjoy the benefit of reduced rolling under the press of sail, to counterbalance the east-going current and in the hope of encountering a more favourable wind direction further south tomorrow that might allow us to make some westing.
At 03:30 UTC today we observed a fishing vessel bearing down on us from the east. We hailed her repeatedly on VHF channel 16 from both our 5 Watt portable and fixed-installation 25 Watt unit with jury-rigged antenna, without result. As the vessel passed 1/4 n.m. astern we waved our arms and a bright red jerry can in the air to indicate our intentions. The fishing vessel responded by revving her engine and making off to the west at speed. We could see several people on deck strolling about in full view. It seemed they came over to take a look at us, no doubt we are a curious sight. I do not know what they thought of our jury-rigged mast and Arab Dhow-style sail plan. When we enlarged our photographs, we discovered that this was the Yue Yuan Yu 168, one of the Chinese fishing vessels reportedly advised via the Maldives authorities of our position and who were thought to be prepared to rendevous and provide fuel.
100 litres of diesel remain. All well on board, with spirits lifted by the sun, despite the accumulating lack of sleep.
Many Thanks again,
John Potter."

By evening we had dropped sail and were drifting on the easterly current. This is getting us nowhere! We tacked and tried to head north, steering 340 but making only 030T. Disastrous!

Caro: It was pretty upsetting to have this fishing boat coming so close but not helping us. On the one hand it sure looked like they came close because they were curious, but on the other they completely ignored us. We were on deck waving jerry cans at them. We could see people on deck watching us. Yet they completely failed to even acknowlegde we were there! I'm feeling so down. To me this trip is over. All that's left is to make it back to Singapore. Repairing Jocara is going to take enormous amounts of money we don't have. It will be years before she'll be right again.

20 July

John: We still have only a breath of air out of the west, and are drifting east on the current, getting ever further away from Gan. I start to copy Richard's net around 06:00 local and overhear partial conversations that suggest folk are puzzled why we have not used our engine when encountering fishing vessels. It is not clear to me whether they are expecting us to chase them or run from them with our engine. Anyway, Richard dictates the northernmost limits of the SE trades for the next few days, up to Sunday. None nearer than 2 deg. 30'S, out of our reach. Things are not looking quite so cute these days. Ever since we got our jury-rig sail working we've had no workable wind. My morning Sitrep is not optimistic:

At 02:25 UTC 20 July Jocara was at 0 deg. 54.0'S, 075 deg. 50.6'E, drifting East at 0.8 kt in 3-5 kts of wind from the W. Sky 5/8 cu with light squalls. SS1 with moderate swell.
There is now too little wind to sail in any direction. The wx fcst kindly provided by Richard on the SE Asian Mobile Maritime Net this morning indicates no change in wx for us over the next 3 days. We can expect to lose 20 n.m. of ground/day if this Easterly current persists, as expected for this time of year. The boundary of the SE trades are beyond our range until at least Sunday, even if we used all our fuel to motor South. If we stay at this latitude we might eventually hope to be influenced by edge of SE trade belt, perhaps bringing some light Southerly wind.
We will motor west for a few hours today to maximise the useful reach of our fuel in getting towards Gan in relatively calm wx and smooth seas and to increase our chances of encountering a helpful Maldivian fishing Vessel.
We cannot receive Richard's Mobile Maritime Net until about 01:00 UTC as the range is too short for this frequency (14.323 MHz) until the ionisation over the Eastern Indian Ocean gets stronger in the morning.
We regularly find competing traffic on 8.161 MHz and will shift our other scheds to 8.164 Mhz at 02:30 and 10:00 UTC from today.
Our auxilliary diesel engine is working fine. We did have a problem with it seizing a month ago, but this was repaired in Gan before we left. Our generator also works fine, consuming 3 litres of diesel/day.
When we encounter (presumed) fishing vessels at night we call on VHF and signal with a white light (we have no running lights left after the mast was lost, also sweeping away the starb'd rail with its wiring and stb'd running light). If we get no response, we leave them alone. During daylight hours, we call on VHF and signal visually, but do not attempt to pursue if they show no interest in helping. Our maximum speed is 8 kts, so we cannot hope to outrun a vessel if she proves determinedly unfriendly. We understand that Maldivian fishing vessels monitor HF channel 11.
Approx. 100 litres of diesel remain, though there is a chance that a little of this may have been lost or water-contaminated when the jerries storing it were partially crushed on deck by the falling mast. All well on board.
Many Thanks again for continuing to monitor our situation with a readiness to support,
John Potter."

It seems that this is more than our concerned Maldivian Coast Guard contact can stand. Later we receive a wonderful email from him:

"Dear Capt. Potter
It is clear with current wind direction you may not be able to make it to motoring range of Gan. So a Coastguard vessel will be dispatched from Haddhunmathee Atoll. This CG vessel does not have endurance from the present position so they will Fuel up from North Huvadhoo Atoll. And rendezvous with you probably in the afternoon of 21st July (Thursday). Please start your motors and head towards Addu Atoll making 280°T to intercept our CG vessel approximately 65NM from Addu Atoll. The call sign of the vessel is CG133. And they will be listening to your HF frequency.
Please clarify us the amount of fuel you will require to reach Addu atoll from this position. Including your current position and the ETA.
Good luck,
Duty Officer"

Now, as much as I would like to be rescued, it seems that sending out a Coast Guard vessel is not yet really justified. Besides, who knows what a Maldivian Search and Rescue operation might cost us? We may yet get some favourable wind. Indeed, the latest GRIB files suggest that some useful southerly breeze might fill in tomorrow that would allow us to sail directly for Gan. So I reply:

I am in receipt of your email offering to rendevous with a CG vessel. This is extremely generous. We did request that no vessel be dispatched at this time as we are not in any immediate danger. Even though present wind forecasts are unpromising, we still hope to make Gan under our own steam. We have just received a forecast from the US NOAA for the area that predicts mild southerly winds over the area between ourselves and Gan for two days, starting tomorrow. If this comes to pass, we can sail west to within motoring distance.
May I therefore respectfully suggest that the CG vessel is held back for a day or two to see if the winds will co-operate sufficiently to render their assistance unnecessary? We can confirm by email tomorrow afternoon if winds have allowed us to make progress. Even if we make only some progress, this will decrease the range that the CG vessel will need to run out to meet us.
In the event that the CG vessel does rendevous with us some east of Gan and provides 100 litres of diesel, may I inquire if there will be a charge for this service? Obviously we would be pleased to reimburse the cost of fuel transferred, but the cost of CG vessel operations is no doubt rather high and, I regret to say, likely beyond our budget.
Warm Regards,
John Potter."

And so the rescue operation was put on hold. Nevertheless, if the wind failed to materialise, we would need to have made some progress towards Gan for the Coast Guard to launch their plan, so we decided to motor for a while while we waited for wind.

My afternoon Sitrep read:

At 11:35 UTC 20 July Jocara was at 0 deg. 55.8'S, 075 deg. 58.1'E, motoring west at lowest possible throttle making 2 kt into a 1 kt counter-current in near-zero wind from the W. Sky 7/8 st + st-cu. SS1 with moderate swell. We are consuming diesel from a measured container to determine the consumption rate of the engine at this low speed to see if we can get greater mileage this way.
We are currently 168 n.m. from the Pass into Addu Atoll, leading to Gan.
Approx. 100 litres of diesel remain in jerries on deck, the main tank must surely run dry any time now.
No vessels sighted.
All well on board.
Many Thanks again for continuing to monitor our situation with a readiness to support.
John Potter."

And so we settled down to dinner in calm weather and a smoother sea than we'd had in a while. Just as dinner was being served, I noticed a blip on the radar. It showed lights like a freighter rather than a fishing boat, so maybe there was a chance if we called them on the VHF? Then they shon a light on us. I put down my plate and called. They responded immdiately and with our correct name, first time. Strange, that. Not knowing quite how to proceed from there I apologised for not showing any running lights and explained that they had been carried away when we had been dismasted. Quick as a shot, they asked if we required any assistance. Well yes, actually. A 100 litres of diesel would be perfect... The Sitrep next morning tells the story.

Caro: The tanker cut their engines and slowly came to a stop. We motored Jocara alongside, staying about 50 meters off their port side. It's impressive being so close to a big tanker, Jocara seemed ever so tiny next to her. John and Casper got the dinghy in the water and with Alex along, motored over to Soshangana. I stayed on board keeping Jocara alongside at a good distance. It was a little hard to see what was going on in the dark, but I could see Casper and Alex climb up a ladder to the deck. There was a crowd of people on deck and I noticed a lot of flashes. Clearly the kids were getting a lot of attention. John looked like an ant in the dinghy receiving jerries. He came back to drop the diesel off and then returned to pick up the kids. They came back all excited, what an adventure! Casper wrote his own account you can read. What a nice people and what a relief to have enough fuel to motor to Gan.

21 July

At 14:45 UTC on 20 July Jocara encountered the motor tanker MT Shoshangana at 0 deg. 55.25'S, 075 deg. 47.6'E. Shoshangana was hailed on VHF and responded. We explained the cause of our lack of navigational lights and she asked if we required assistance. We requested 100 litres of diesel and Shoshangana immediately made arrangements for us to come alongside and receive 5 jerry containers of fuel, each of 25 litres. It transpired that she had been alerted to our situation by the UK coastguard some 4 or 5 hours earlier and that she was on the lookout for us. We exchanged papers and separated an hour later. We are now motoring directly for Gan with enough fuel to arrive under our own steam.
At 00:20 UTC 21 July Jocara was at 0 deg. 53.7'S, 075 deg. 23.1'E, motoring west making 4 kt in near-zero wind from the W. Sky 4/8 st + st-cu. SS1 with light swell.
We are currently 133 n.m. from the Pass into Addu Atoll, leading to Gan.
Approx. 185 litres of diesel remain in jerries on deck.
All now very well on board.
Many Thanks again for continuing to monitor our situation with a readiness to support. Barring further mishap, it appears that our situation is now resolved and requires no further outside intervention. I will continue to issue sitreps, reduced in frequency to one a day, until we are safely in port.
John Potter."

MT Soshangana was alerted to our situation by the UK Coast Guard at Falmouth, in turn alerted by an acquaintance, Roger Ball, who happens to have signed on to receive our newsletter and who learnt that way of our predicament. Maybe Richard also contacted the UK, but I prefer to believe that it was the serendipitous and circuitous route of communication that led to our salvation. We made the rendevous by dinghy, bouncing against the side of this huge metal behemoth while they lowered the jerries down on a rope. Casper and Alex got to climb the Jacob's ladder and go on deck. They said that the Indonesian crew explained that the Soshangana had detoured to intercept our last known position. In any event, their help was generous in the extreme and in the best traditions of seamanship, for which we are truly grateful. We tried to give them US$100 in an envelope, but they wouldn't accept it, indeed gave Casper a 'T'-shirt! Stupid of us! We should have taken a bunch of our 'T'-shirts over for them!

22 July

John: At 10:30 UTC 22 July Jocara dropped her anchor in the inner harbour at Gan at 0 deg. 41.1'S, 073 deg. 08.6'E. It's a real delight to have made it to land, I can tell you!

On the way in today we came across a large red buoy, so we went over to take a look and found it surrounded by jacks, dorado, tuna and other fish. After making a few passes with lures deployed we caught three dorado and two yellowfin tuna that were soon made into sashimi and sushi for lunch. Maybe Neptune has decided to smile on us for a while?

Now, if we could only work out how to get the authorities to work on a Friday (the Muslim day of rest) we could go ashore and sink a cold beer... Sure enough, the Gods are still smiling on us. The authorities turned out to clear us in, even though it is a Friday. Apparently the Coast Guard in Male took pity on us and asked the local authorities to clear us in as soon as possible after we arrived. So, indeed, a cold beer, or three, or four were indeed consumed in the single bar in town, at the Equator Village resort.

Caro: Well, we never thought we'd be back in Gan this soon. The first time we arrived without an engine and this time we arrive without a mast! I'm glad we're here after more than a week on a passage to nowhere. Now we can start planning and making some progress. We want to move on to Male as soon as possible to install a temporary mast with wire rigging. After our beers John and the kids go to the little restaurant. I prefer to stay on board, I'm not very hungry, and I could do with a little quiet time on my own.


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