Friday, 14 June 2013

An adventure in which there is a storm

One of the things that has been plaguing me about our trip to Cartagena has been a fear of the "chocosano" they have here.  The chocosano is a short duration storm (about 30 minutes) that come up suddenly and are accompanied by very strong winds and rain. I have been crossing my fingers that we would not experience one while on the boat. And we haven't yet, but we did experience one while in a shopping mall, and that may have been worse.

On Tuesday, we walked to the big shopping center to check it out.  We came out of one of the stores and I said that it sounded like there was a water fountain below us.  The Captain said, "No, that's rain on the roof." We didn't worry too much, just found a restaurant to have a beer and wait out the rain. We watched half the football (soccer) game - Colombia was winning over Peru by 2 goals to nil - then made our way back to the marina with a very light drizzle falling.

We had hardly been put out during the storm, but Diva was.  You can imagine our surprise to find that she was not where we had left her, but instead had dragged anchor and had run aground in the shallows about a meter away from a stone wall of an old fort! She was not damaged, but she definitely was stuck.  

So began our short period of beach(ed) life, which at the time, felt like forever.  The trick to getting a sailboat out of the shallows is to pull the boat onto its side, done by applying force on a line coming from the top of the mast, so the keel comes out of the mud, and you can use a combination of the engine in reverse and winching up an anchor to move the boat on its side out of the shallows until it can float again.  Everyone knew that this was what had to be done, but Diva is a big, heavy boat (ten tonnes) and even though our water tank was almost empty, she apparently kinda liked her new spot.

Shortly after we got back to the boat in the evening, a Danish sailor who had seen it all happen came over to see if he could help.  He told us that they had measured wind strength of 55 knots (hurricane strength is 65) and almost all the boats had dragged a little.  He had watched Diva move, and said she had been close to hitting two other boats, but fortunately we could see no damage. The plastic 2" pole supporting the canopy on the boat had snapped, but otherwise it was okay.  The Danish sailor said that the three enormous tug boats parked in the harbour had also started to drag, coming closer to the marina. Also a Corsair trimaran had been picked up in a gust and cartwheeled over, landing upside down in the water, fortunately not hitting any other boats. The Danish sailor said his boat hadn't dragged only because he had turned on the engine and pointed into the wind, using the engine to keep it in the same place.

Feeling a little bit better that at least our boat wasn't upside down, we began the process of trying to get her off the rocks.  With the Danish sailor's help, and with the help of the security guard of the fort and a few other strangers, we tied a line from the mast to a canon on the wall of the fort, dropped an anchor off the stern and pick up a mooring line to attach to the stern. We gunned the engine and - nothing happened.  The four or five guys on the wall hung off the line to the mast rocking her - nothing.  We switched sides and put the line from the mast to a concrete pole in the water off the other side of the boat and tried to winch her again, and - nothing.  After a couple of hours we gave up, hoping to try again at high tide (even though it only shifts a couple of feet here) and the Danish sailor went back to his boat.

Fortunately, the boat was mostly upright, so we decided to get some sleep. At 10:30, someone knocked outside, and it was some local guys from the marina, who wanted to give us a hand.  They had a little boat, and it became apparent that it wasn't enough power.  After trying for a while, they left, and we went back to bed. At 2 am we heard another knock, and the guy had come back with a bigger boat, with two 200 horsepower engines.  Still wouldn't move. At that point we realized that there was no exhaust water coming from the engines and we needed to stop for the night.  The impellar (the little pump that forces water into the engine cooling system) had gone during our last day at sea and Phil had put in the spare one, but he had said at the time that it wouldn't last since it was older and the plastic basically "rots" in the tropics.

The next morning we woke up at 6 am and Phil installed the new impellar.  We were able to contact some people from the marina and the Colombian coast guard was going to come and bring one of their boats as well.  At 11 am, there were 6 men on and around the boat, three dingies in the water, (one with a dog) 1 coast guard ship with 3 officers and 25 people on the wall watching the spectacle.  The effort was loosely coordinated, but engines were blazing, and  - nothing!  Not even an inch. Although we did tilt her much further over on her side, making being aboard awkward.

We decided to reconvene at 4 pm, which we'd heard was high tide. We spent the day anxiously sitting in a coffee shop with air conditioning, and then went back to the boat when Captain Phil took a nap and I chatted with a German couple who had seen everything and offered to help at 1 am when they thought high tide was to happen.

At 4 pm, there was a thunderstorm, although just a normal one, thank goodeness.  I was half heartedly hoping for a big one so a swell could lift us right off the sand. Then again, it could lift us on to the fort as well, so maybe not...

Because of the rain, no one came to help us. Phil and I grabbed a bar of soap and showered in our underwear in the rain - when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. After it cleared up, we went for pizza, and then decided to go to bed, expecting to wake up at 1 am for high tide to try with the Germans' help.

At 8:30, about 20 minutes after we had fallen asleep, there was a knocking on the side of the boat.  More rescuers!  It was the boys from the morning.  This time, they brought a scuba tank and were going to dig a trench out behind the keel.  After 2 hours of digging and then pulling with the club boat (one 60 horse power engine), we were 6 inches further out, but still stuck.  Fortunately, one of the guys had chatted with the Captain of an enormous luxury powerboat sitting just behind us.  They were friends, and the Captain promised to help after the owners were finished with their dinner party and he returned them to the docks.  So we waited around for another hour or so, and then I spotted the luxury boat stealthily coming up the channel in the dark towards us.

The luxury boat was midnight blue and 50 feet long, with an engine that sounded like a big cat purring.  Captain Phil guesstimates it probably had about a 1000 HP engine.  Sure enough, a gentle tug from that boat on the line from the mast, and with two smaller boats straining with stern lines, we were free!

It should have been victorious, but the anchor was attached to the stern and so the guys with the dingy took it off and put it in their boat.  We thought they were going to follow us close behind, but that message didn't get translated, and we drove around for 20 minutes waiting for our anchor to show up so we could put it down again!

We are now on the other side of the marina, with the anchor down solidly.  I am still a bit jumpy about the weather, but we have heard that the storm was exceptionally strong. They usually have winds between 35-45 knots, but this was at least 55-65 knots. So, cross your fingers and maybe your toes too that it won't happen again!

Another adventure under our belts...

PS. We went to another marina today to ask about hauling the boat out of the water, and he asked how we had fared in the storm.  Turns out, he had a picture of our boat aground! (see below)  Infamous in Colombia already...

PPS. I didn't take any pictures because it was my own little form of denial - if I don't take any pictures, this can't really be happening, right?  I guess I shouldn't sign up for journalism school anytime soon.

PPS. Other than high levels of anxiety, we really didn't fair too badly.  We've lost 2 buckets, one water bottle, one cutting board, and one pole for the canopy (we have a spare). The boat was dry inside, with the exception of water that came through the open hatches. (I know, of all the days to forget to close the hatches when we left.)  Considering what could have been damaged, we were lucky.

Diva is on the right (red and white).  We stayed in that position for 36 hours. The other boats blew down with us, but had shallower drafts and were able to get out under their own power.

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